Citizens try to save Burly’s tree canopy

Emma Adams, Staff Writer

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Burlington is defined by its lush green foliage.

However, local arborists say the signature  trunks and leaves of Vermont need citizen help. 

Branch Out Burlington! is an organization that seeks to nurture and expand the city’s leafy canopy. Volunteers help plant and maintain the health of trees around the city.

BOB! grows trees that line the streets of Burlington on the property of the UVM Horticulture Research and Education Center.

Despite their efforts, the council of BOB! said they need the help of UVM students. 

President Margaret Skinner said to ensure the survival of the trees, the community needs to step up to stop vandalism and encourage loving care.

“The important thing to remind students is it isn’t enough just to plant the trees,” Skinner said. “Even if it is only to remind their friends how valuable the trees in Burlington are to the environment and our state of mind. Every little bit helps.”

Besides calling on the community for tree ambassadors, BOB! is concerned with controlling the destruction of ash trees due to an invasive insect.

The emerald ash borer is a green beetle responsible for the death of millions of trees across North America, and it is now affecting Vermont.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation website, the insect was brought to North America from Asia. 

Its larvae bore into the bark and disrupt water and nutrient transportation up the tree trunk, eventually killing the tree after one to four years, depending on tree size. 

V.J. Comai has been head arborist of Burlington since 2018. He is attempting to control the infestation, as many of Burlington’s ash trees are visibly mutilated by the exotic bug.

“There are a number of locations this fall where we did interplanting for ash trees,” Comai said. “[Planting] 80 trees is doable in a day.” 

Interplanting means that BOB! plants two healthy trees around one infected ash tree. As a result, a street lined with trees has a mix of healthy and infected ash. When the infected trees die, healthy ones are already there to replace them. 

“We look at every site,” Comai said. “Can we put another tree here before we remove the Ash?”

The Burlington Parks Department is anticipating the loss of 900 trees that currently line the streets due to the infestation, Skinner said.

“The loss of those trees will reduce the leaf canopy that we depend on to keep our streets and sidewalks cool and to reduce damage and pollution from stormwater runoff,” Skinner said.

Volunteers planted 432 trees in 2019, according to BOB! data. Forty-eight of those trees replaced ash trees infected by the emerald ash borer. Today, BOB! has replaced 24% of greenbelt ash trees.

Tessa McGann is a masters student at UVM studying natural resources. She said she was interested in observing how BOB! is responding to the emerald ash borer.

“I believe in urban forestry as a way to improve everybody’s lives and the world,” McGann said. “I’m thinking about how this group is responding to invasive insects and global changes and our role in that.”

BOB! will celebrate the diversity of trees in Burlington at their 20th Awesome Tree Contest award ceremony Dec. 3 at Zero Gravity, a brewery downtown. 

Trees are nominated into categories such as “Coolest Conifer” and “Largest Canopy,” and voters in the community choose their favorite trees.

Get your hands dirty with BOB! by emailing Skinner at [email protected] or by visiting branchoutburlington.org.