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Conservation Commission debates policy on tree plantings

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KENT—After a winter of pondering the implications of a tree-planting program, the Conservation Commission is nearing consensus on a policy. 

The policy is still under discussion, but focus is currently on the village center and the historic district and commissioners agreed that trees located on private land would be paid for by both landowners and the town.

The commission began discussion last fall when Tree Warden Bruce Bennett and commission advisor Jos Spelbos developed a plan to plant three trees on property owned by Nordic Property Management on Bridge Street. The cost to purchase and plant the trees was estimated at $1,400 to $1,500 per tree, which would have been paid from the Kuga Fund. But the proposal met resistance and led to discussion over several months about the equity of the town installing trees on private lands with no commitment on the part of landowners.

In the past, some property owners paid for a portion of the trees planted on their lands, while in other instances trees were planted free. Ultimately, the issue was tabled while the commission sought an equitable way to implement the program.

The Kuga Fund originated because 19th-century Kent native Birdsey Northrop—founder of Arbor Day—undertook a mission to plant trees in Japan. Japanese forester Shunichi Kuga visited Kent in 1972, bringing copies of his biography of Northrop and a check for $1,000. The gift, Kuga explained, was in appreciation of what Northrop had done for Japan so long ago. 

In the 1980s the Kuga Fund was tapped to plant trees along Main Street. Then in 2001 the Conservation Commission took over the account for tree maintenance in the village. Eight shade trees were planted along Elizabeth Street.

Discussion at the April 10 meeting focused on the scope of the area to be included in the project and the financial liability the town would assume. Members concurred that planting five trees a year along roadsides would be feasible, with the town contributing up to $250 toward the endeavor. “Our contribution would be up to $250. If someone wants a $750 tree, that we would have to pay someone to transport and plant, the remainder would be on them,” said commission member Melissa Cherniske.

Maintenance of the trees would be the responsibility of the landowner.

Commission member Jos Spelbos said that smaller trees could be planted by hand, but that if all were scheduled for installation on the same day the town crew might be able to provide machinery to plant them, thereby speeding the process.

Member Michael Benjamin said that planting smaller trees would expand the impact over a larger area and suggested that conservation benefits such as shade, water retention, and improved air quality be considered. But Chairman Connie Manes urged that esthetics be the sole determining factor in choosing locations. “I feel more comfortable if we limit it to the village and historic district and make it about esthetics, for making our sidewalks beautiful for visitors,” she said. “If we say it is for conservation values, we’re opening ourselves up to claims of discrimination.”

Spelbos had reservations about offering to plant trees in the historic district as trees have been unaccountably cut down there. “I don’t want to plant trees for people who cut down big trees,” he said.

It was decided that trees will only be planted along roadways and not at the back of lots. All trees will be of native stock. But member Wendy Murphy had a broader vision “All over town we are losing the trees lining the streets that we have been accustomed to for a hundred years. You don’t see the big shady trees and tree seedlings don’t start on their own these days with people mowing their lawns. You have to go out of your way to have trees.”

Murphy suggested that trees planted earlier by the Conservation Commission be evaluated for how well they are doing, and Manes agreed that an evaluation process might be good to include in the policy.

Murphy said she would like to see a permanent tree commission formed. “The thing we are talking about now should be for the village, but I want to make people more tree conscious. We could ease into having more people if they want trees on their properties.”

Murphy noted that a first step toward this initiative is a talk at 11 a.m. at the Kent Memorial Library on May 4 by Tree Warden Bruce Bennett.

An Arbor Day Tree will be planted April 26 by students at Kent Center School on Kent Volunteer Fire Department land. The KCS students will also choose the species to be planted and the commission authorized up to $500 to purchase and plant the selected tree. 

Kathryn Boughton
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