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Wheeling City Officials Urged to Update Codes for Urban Tree Maintenance

WHEELING — City leaders are being urged to take steps that literally will help plant the seeds to bring a greener Wheeling to many generations into the future.

Recently, Wheeling Vice Mayor Chad Thalman invited forestry and forest management specialist Karen Cox to address urban tree management issues with city officials. With plans underway to develop the proposed Robrecht Waterfront Park downtown near the mouth of Wheeling Creek and with new greenery being a key part in the multimillion-dollar Downtown Streetscape Project next year, the city is already taking steps to bring more green areas to the city.

However, Cox — Ohio County Agricultural and Natural Resources agent for the area’s West Virginia University Extension service — noted there are a number of things the city can do to help improve its management of urban trees.

“One of the things I want to see the city to look at doing is trying to take steps to increase the number of trees here in the city of Wheeling,” Thalman said, noting that Cox brought sound advice on what needs to be done to modernize its approach to urban greenery.

Cox said municipal leaders have to think beyond just increasing planting and maintenance of trees.

“I really hope to encourage the city to think bigger and to think longer-term,” she said. “When you’re thinking about trees, you really want to think into a 100-year lifespan. You want to think about your children and grandchildren.”

According to Cox, there are many values to having a healthy community forest ecosystem in an urban setting. The best way to manage trees with urban areas is to do so in a non-crisis manner, she said. So she suggested the city adopt an official tree board to help develop a municipal tree ordinance.

Among the benefits of an urban canopy of trees are shading and wind reduction, which Cox said helps moderate temperatures in nearby buildings and can result collectively in long-term cost savings for both cooling and winter heating. Trees also help with natural storm water management, providing water absorption and soil retention that help reduce flooding, slow a storm surge and take pressure off a city’s storm drain systems.

Trees help improve an area’s air quality, which in turn helps improve overall health and quality of life, according to Cox, who said studies have shown that people even tend to spend more money in tree-lined retail areas. Real estate values are also increased by the presence of property managed trees and green areas, she said.

Cox provided Wheeling city leaders with a sample tree ordinance to review that can help the city move forward with goals of improving urban tree maintenance. Currently, there are various articles in the current city codes in Wheeling that address trees, but there is no single, primary tree ordinance on the books, Cox explained. Many of the recommendations in the current codes are “outdated,” she said.

Modern science has helped create new methods for good planting routines, like recommended soil depths and pruning practices. In fact, Cox said that in order to have urban tree management done the right way to today’s standards, a developer on a project in the city of Wheeling would have to request a variance in many circumstances to meet the city’s outdated codes regarding trees.

Studies show it costs twice as much to respond to emergency maintenance of trees that are dead, dying, have fallen branches or need pruning because of an unfortunate incident compared to the cost of proper tree maintenance on a regular, scheduled basis.

Earlier this year, the city hosted a successful Arbor Day tree planting even in city parks throughout town, and Wheeling has been home to many other projects with a focus on urban greenery.

“That puts us well on our way to becoming a Tree City USA,” Cox said, noting that the installation of a tree advisory board will also help Wheeling become a Tree City USA — a national recognition that will introduce further funding opportunities for the city.

“A tree board is simply an official advisory body made of interested citizens who are charged with looking after the welfare of trees in a community,” she said, adding that the effort is really about enhancing the quality of life in the community.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said that with the $25 million Downtown Streetscape Project, trees in the downtown will have a new look in the future.

“As part of the new Streetscape project, we are going to be replacing those trees with newer trees that are going to be allowed to grow,” the mayor said. “Now, it’s going to take many years for that to happen, but hopefully in 20 years or so, there will be more of a canopy downtown on some of those trees as opposed to sort of the ‘pruned lollipop’ approach that some of them tend to look like now.”

Cox said the W.Va. Division of Forestry and the WVU Extension Service are among the agencies that are available to provide resources and to advise city leaders in the future regarding the development of a new tree ordinance.

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