Neighborhood Spring Flowering Trees Pixabay

Facing further pushback from residents concerned too little is being done to protect trees from the impacts of both current and future climatology, Arlington officials are floating new ideas, including do-it-yourself citizen brigades to water foliage on public property.

Another County Board meeting brought a new round of concerns voiced by the Arlington Tree Action Group (ATAG) on Oct. 19, but they were concerns that have deep roots in the past.

The organization complained, as others before them have, that Arlington officials will plant fledgling trees on public property, only to allow them to die through inattention.

The situation is “penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said Anne Bodine, who spoke for the activist group at the County Board’s public-comment period.

Bodine said the county’s response – that it doesn’t have the resources to tend to all the trees on its property – is maddening.

“Instead of paying to water, citizens are now going to have to pay to remove dead trees on public property,” she said on a weekend of rainfall that was plentiful, but was not enough to offset the moderate drought that has been afflicting Northern Virginia in recent months.

ATAG has not been shy about sparring with county-government leaders on tree issues. Sometimes those attacks draw sharp retorts, but this time, county officials opted for a more conciliatory tone.

“Always appreciate a look at where we may be falling short,” said County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey, who frequently has pushed back harder at assertions of the organization.

The most recent complaints – that the local government forces trees to fend for themselves after planting – has some basis in fact. The general policy is to water new trees up to two years of age. After that, they indeed are on their own.

It would be “more than a daunting task” to try and deal with the 20,000 trees located in the public right-of-way and the 100,000 more in Arlington parks, County Manager Mark Schwartz said.

“We’re not going to be able to water all the trees,” he said.

But Schwartz, who praised ATAG as a “helpful partner,” said he was open to ideas. He suggested encouraging residents or groups to adopt groups of trees, much like they adopt stretches of highways for litter removal.

Schwartz said more specifics would come during the fiscal 2021 budget process and as the County Board evaluates updates to master plans for natural-resource management.

And there does seem to be some board support for a more comprehensive effort on tree management.

“The way we have been doing things in the past may not hold true [in the future],” County Board member Erik Gutshall said. “If we put our heads together, we can figure [it] out.”

Bodine suggested that the county government put more emphasis on educating the public about tree-survival techniques, and also plant species that are more hardy in local climate conditions.

Arlington is home to about 750,000 trees – three trees for every resident – but whether the overall canopy is rising or falling has been one of the bones of contention between ATAG and county leaders.

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