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East Enders, city officials to talk about doomed trees

By Tim Puko
Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The city is offering an olive branch to dozens of East End residents running a grassroots effort to preserve thousands of neighborhood trees.

Public works officials and the executive director of a Pittsburgh environmental group will attend a community meeting Thursday in Squirrel Hill to discuss a plan to trim the city’s tree population. A contractor took a tree inventory in 2005 and the city followed its recommendations by removing about 1,000 dead and defective trees last year, said Public Works Director Guy Costa.

Several Squirrel Hill residents have tried since November to press the city for more information and delay more removals. The city plans to remove 3,075 street-side trees, more than 500 of them in Squirrel Hill and other 14th Ward neighborhoods, this year.

“We’re concerned for the city, not just for our block,” said Francesca Savoia, a University of Pittsburgh professor and Monitor Street resident. “We think this massive elimination of trees may have a devastating impact on the quality of the air, especially if there is no clear plan, no money to replace them.”

Savoia and about two dozen neighbors started meeting and contacting city officials and local community groups after the city sent out postcards alerting them to upcoming tree removals. In addition to air quality, they’re concerned about a potential drop in property values, insufficient money to replace the trees and a lack of honesty from officials, Savoia said.

The 14th Ward has the most trees in the city — 5,993, according to a database created by Davey Resource Group, the Ohio contractor that did the 2005 study.

Savoia is hopeful the meeting at The Children’s Institute in Squirrel Hill will attract 70 people. Costa said he and Deputy Director Mike Gable will be there.

“I’m not against cutting down all the trees that are dead, that definitely represent a risk … but I would like to understand if all of these trees need to be felled,” Savoia said.

They do, according to the city, the environmental group Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest, and Davey Resource Group. The trees to be removed are dead, small, poorly formed, have damage that costs too much to fix or come from an “undesirable or inferior species” such as the tree-of-heaven or white mulberry, as determined by Davey.

The city has allocated $2.3 million for their removal. Some of the trees are among the city’s oldest and have branches vulnerable to breaking during storms, said Danielle Crumrine, executive director of Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest.

“There’s a risk that they will fall down and injure somebody,” Costa said. “Now we know they’re a liability for the city, so we need to be proactive and have them removed.”

City Councilman Doug Shields, who represents much of the 14th Ward, said residents likely don’t recall a meeting three years ago about the plan. He wants to get the word out again, and in a better way.

“All of a sudden, the tree-cutting crew shows up on the street and people get upset,” he said. “I think we’ve got to do a much better job telling the story of what it is we’re actually doing and remind people we had this study done, remind people there are issues of public safety involved in this as well.”

Crumrine’s group is helping with tree pruning, and is one of several groups helping to raise about $1.25 million for planting through 2011, Costa said. The city wants to plant 4,200 trees, which would more than replenish the population.

Tim Puko can be reached at or 412-320-7975.

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