Archives: 2015-16 Legislative Session

Tree Management Plan

Trees. Not a forest of them. Nor a parkway, or a backyard shelter. But a cathedral. Trees that humble you with their grandeur. Tress that inspire you with their grace. Trees that restore you with their beauty.
------Morton Arboretum

This park, with its “cathedral” of trees, took decades to grow, and we here today owe it to the future citizens of California, and beyond, to develop a plan that will perpetuate its existence for decades to come.

There are over 860 trees in Capitol Park. They represent a rare diversity for a 40-acre park. There are 210 unique species; however, 97 of these species are represented by only one tree, often over-mature, in decline and needing constant care. Another 67 species have only two specimens, again often over-mature and needing constant care. Some species are on the rare and endangered list in their native countries; thus, replacements are difficult to find via tree nurseries.

Despite care by the Department of General Services (DGS) and contract arborists, Capitol Park is in crisis mode. Drought, combined with instantaneous mandatory water reductions and lack of a zone watering system, had a devastating impact on the trees, thus far resulting in the removal and decline of nearly 10 percent of the trees since 2014, with more to come. In 2017, the Civil War Memorial Grove suffered more losses. In 1929, the Grove included 37 trees from Civil War battlefields. As of the end of 2018, there were seven remaining.

The Commission followed up on these losses by tasking Commission member Paula Peper to conduct a two-fold assessment of the Capitol Park tree population (Ms. Peper has over 20 year’s experience as an urban ecologist and biometrician for the US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station’s Center for Urban Forest Research, conducting municipal forest resources analyses and management recommendations for cities across the U.S.). The assessment included an analysis on the value, age structure, and species richness of the trees, as well as recommendations to ensure continued canopy cover and unique historic species diversity. Ms. Peper’s report recommended that a 50-year tree management plan be developed to address various concerns, including tree protection and species replacement guidelines, methods and schedules for introducing water reduction, species-specific planting and pruning guidelines, and tree removal and salvage guidelines. Ms. Peper also recommended that a GIS database be maintained and updated to include planting, removal and maintenance records.

At the April 13, 2017 Commission meeting, Commission member Ms. Peper shared with members her PowerPoint presentation, “Capitol Park Trees: A Rare Asset.”  The slideshow discusses the economic value of the ecosystem services provided by the park’s 864 trees (which represent 210 species) and addresses concerns facing the aging tree population.  Ms. Peper proposed a tree management plan that would include the systematic removal, replacement and salvage of over-mature, high-risk trees in order to insure public safety and perpetuation of an arboretum-quality tree canopy. 

The Commission recommended that the Legislature authorize and fund the creation of a 50-year tree management plan in order to ensure the health and longevity of this unique and valuable historical resource. Although Commission members emphasized that the plan would not limit building or development in the park, but would rather provide resources and guidance, they were advised that the project “to pursue construction of, or the restoration, rehabilitation, renovation, or reconstruction of,” the aging East Annex, must proceed first.

Despite this setback, the tree replacement segment of the proposal has made major progress. The Commission continues to work with DGS Capitol Park grounds staff, listing 35 species as needing replacement now or within the next 10 years. Of those, Ms. Peper located seed, seedling or sapling stock for 30 trees. Seventeen of these species were purchased by DGS in 2018. Under the guidance of Abbey Hart and Taylor Lewis (UC Davis Arboretum), and Mike Nielsen (DGS), the seeds for eight are being propagated, and seedlings and saplings of nine additional species are being grown to a size suitable for planting in the park. The remaining thirteen saplings will be purchased in 2019; these will be held and cared for by the UC Davis Arboretum. Many of the trees that have failed or are at the end of their lives are unique, one-of-a-kind species (like Greek and Caucasian firs, Yeddo spruce, and alligator juniper). A tree management plan will ensure that Capitol Park maintains its arboretum quality for the next 50-100 years.