Editorials

Drought is leaving its mark on the City of Trees

John Krecek of the Sacramento Department of Public Works puts tree branches in a wood chipper last month. The branches were taken from 66 trees in poor health removed from William Land Park.
John Krecek of the Sacramento Department of Public Works puts tree branches in a wood chipper last month. The branches were taken from 66 trees in poor health removed from William Land Park. lsterling@sacbee.com

The first thing I noticed on my very first trip to Sacramento is probably the same thing all first-timers notice: the trees. The beautiful canopy of greenery that covers downtown and midtown, and so many of our neighborhoods. The parts of town that don’t have them look naked by comparison.

I’ve learned that on scorching-hot days, such as the ones we had a couple of weeks ago, the branches and leaves of these deciduous trees provide the perfect amount of shade. I can’t imagine Sacramento without them.

It’s a shame, then, that the drought, in addition to claiming large swaths of green grass, has staked its claim to many of our trees. Look closely and you see them, trees that are turning brown and shedding leaves before they normally would. And not just in Sacramento, but across the region – on public land, in parks and on private property.

Some cities wouldn’t care too much. But we are supposed to be the City of Trees. We should care.

Cities seem to be doing what they can.

It’s shame, then, that the drought, in addition to claiming large swaths of green grass, has staked its claim to many of our trees. Look closely and you see them, trees that are turning brown and shedding leaves long before fall.

In Sacramento, for example, watering trucks douse trees that were planted within the last three years in public rights of way. At times, city workers have been known to work with larger trees that need attention. Another effort, a joint “Mulch Madness” program with the Sacramento Tree Foundation, will use the remnants of recycled trees to seal in moisture and protect roots of living trees from the sun.

But public land is only part of the problem.

In Davis, which has been pushing one of the region’s most aggressive water-conservation agendas all summer, residents have reacted – in some cases overreacted – to the mandate. City Councilman Lucas Frerichs said people went from turning on sprinklers and forgetting about them to “freaking out” in their quest to save as much water as possible.

Some have stopped watering their yards altogether, and now they have brown grass and dead or dying trees. Others have ripped out all the grass in their yards and put bark down instead, but still forget to water the trees they left behind.

“What we’re trying to help people understand is don’t stop watering altogether. Water the trees. Let the grass go brown,” Frerichs said. “There is a happy medium.”

That’s what we should be aiming for. Our trees are too important to let die.

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