U course tackles local tree troubles

The course raises awareness about tree vandalism in Marcy-Holmes.

Chelsey Knutson

Last October, longtime Marcy-Holmes resident Ardes Johnson got fed up with the number of trees âÄúsnappedâÄù and âÄúloppedâÄù off in the neighborhood, so she wrote a letter to the University of Minnesota and other neighborhood districts, airing her complaints.
Her letter eventually reached a University forest resources class that took up her cause and wrote a report about solutions to tree care and other neighborhood issues.
Although Ardes Johnson said every tree along Southeast 14th and 15th avenues in Dinkytown had been replaced over her 19 years in the neighborhood, the tipping point was last October when she noticed the last of the nine boulevard trees she planted with boy scouts had been vandalized.
âÄúPeople had just snapped the trees off,âÄù she said.
As a property tax payer in Minneapolis, Ardes Johnson wrote the letter because she was sick of paying for having trees replaced
on the boulevards in Dinkytown.
âÄúFor selfish reasons, I want trees on my street,âÄù she said. âÄúWalking through Dinkytown would be so much more pleasant with trees.âÄù
The Marcy-Holmes Urban Forest Management Plan, led by University forest resources professor Gary Johnson, found trees also make people feel more comfortable and safe.
A majority of trees that were vandalized were planted in very narrow boulevards that were planted so close to sidewalks and curbs that they âÄúwere right in your face,âÄù Gary Johnson said.
The Urban Forest Management Plan included several recommendations for solving the problem, including working out an agreement with residential owners to plant trees on private property to allow them to sit farther away from sidewalks and curbs, a practice called green placement.
Planting larger trees like American elms and oaks would make it more difficult to vandalize, said Johnson, who also led the âÄúPlea for Our TreesâÄù program.
Involving Marcy-Holmes businesses in tree planning and planting would also help raise awareness about tree vandalism, he said.
âÄúA lot of the businesses didnâÄôt even realize they were in Marcy-Holmes because the political boundaries go so far into Dinkytown,âÄù he said.
âÄúTree vandalism is like loitering âÄî the less vandalism, the less messy an area is,âÄù he said, âÄúit has the perception of being well maintained
and safer.âÄù
Most of the tree vandalism happens on Friday and Saturday nights after the bars close, Ardes Johnson said.
âÄúI donâÄôt blame University students,âÄù she said. âÄúOn weekends when this happens we have thousands of visitors coming to this area for sporting events.âÄù
MinneapolisâÄô forestry division planted 56 trees in response to the University project in the east Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, Ardes Johnson said. The trees were larger and several of them had water bags on them.
Forty-eight of those trees have survived, and only two were vandalized.
Ralph Sievert, Director of Forestry at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board said this whole project was initiated by Ardes Johnson, which led to the Gary JohnsonâÄôs class project.
âÄúWhen we have to keep replanting them because of vandalism itâÄôs sad because itâÄôs preventable,âÄù Sievert said.
Two weeks ago Ardes Johnson and other volunteers put yellow plastic tape on the trees in Dinkytown that read âÄúTLC + H20 = >200 yrsâÄù in efforts to raise awareness of tree vandalism.
âÄúI have lived here for 19 years,âÄù Ardes Johnson, a University alumna, said. âÄúI hope to live here for another 19 or 20 years, and by that time I hope the trees on 14th Avenue are mature trees.âÄù
Tree vandals can be liable for restitution amounting to the cost of any trees they kill, University Police Lt. Troy Buhta said. If the tree doesnâÄôt die, the perpetrator could still be charged with vandalism.
Minneapolis Police Department Sgt. Bill Palmer said significant harm to a tree could also result in property damage charges.
ItâÄôs illegal to âÄúcut down, remove, injure or destroy any treeâÄù without the permission of the mayor or city council, according to a
state ordinance.