Saving urban trees and creating a political food agenda

June 17, 2012

Are these Evanston trees in trouble?

A few days ago, I was copied on a letter that was written to Marshall Stern, host of Awakened America on Chicago’s Progressive Talk. Here’s how it read:

This is the story about the trees on Maple St. , Evanston, the block where the Century 21 movie [theater] is located.  A very tough cable has been wound around the trunks of all the trees on this block, both sides of the street.  It is meant for decoration, I think, posssibly electrical lights to be installed in the future.  The cable is very tight, you cannot get your finger under it, and it spirals up the trunk so that the entire surface of the trunk is covered.

The woman, Jane Alexander, said she believed that the trees had been paid for by Church Street Plaza Management, and that she had contected Mark Younger from the City of Evanston Forestry Department about the matter.

I wrote to her and asked whether she could send me some photos. She immediately responded with the pictures on the left side of this page. As you can see, the cable does seem to be wrapped tightly around the trees, and I suspected that the trees would soon be under stress, if not already. So I did what any red-blooded American radio host would do…I got a second, and a third, and a fourth opinion from some of my arborist friends. Here’s how they responded:

As long as the (rope lights?) are loose enough so that the trunk has adequate space to allow for development of the annual growth ring, they should be OK.  Eventually, they will need to be loosened to allow for that expansion.  Being in sidewalk cutouts, the trees may not be putting on a lot of radial growth each year, but that is determined by the size and quality of the soil allocated for them.  If the coils of the cable can slide up or down a bit, there is still some expansion room left.  If they can’t, then they should be removed or at least loosened.
Dr. Rex Bastian, The Care of Trees

Mike, I agree with Rex’s comments. The rope lights can probably stay up for the growing season but for sure check the tightens in the fall and think about loosening them or removing them in the fall.
Doris Taylor, The Morton Arboretum

Mike, they look like hollow tubing with the lights already inside. I’ve seen such things somewhere else but not up close. It’s possible that the tubing has some built-in stretch capacity, which would help. But Ginkgo often grows pretty slowly, especially during the first few years after transplanting, so you probably have a significant grace period for action anyway. Vandals might solve your problem before it becomes critical (!), but if not, be sure someone is aware that the light strings need to be rewound each year. On a more general note, I think it’s a little sad that people think they can improve upon the natural beauty of trees by adding gaudy plastic lights. 
Guy Sternberg, Starhill Forest Arboretum

Tree bondage. Would expect to see this in certain parts of Chicago.  As long as it is loosened each year, OK. If these are LED they emit no heat thus not injuring the bark. The zip tie is likely to cause more damage as it looks pretty tight. Most people forget to loosen, this is what then kills the tree.
Scott Jamieson, Bartlett Tree Experts

I certainly agree w/ what both Rex and Guy said. Over the years I’ve seen plenty of cases where wires (covered w/ rubber hose at the point of contact with the tree’s trunk) used to stake trees after planting, have actually become engulfed by the tree itself. This is especially the case when they are left on too long and not adjusted or loosened to allow for the gradual expansion of the tree’s trunk, as it grows. The same goes for plastic collars left on too long and not adjusted, that were meant to protect a tree’s trunk from damage by string trimmers and deer rubbing.
Although these trees often appear to grow fine with a foreign object stuck beneath its bark/scar tissue, one can certainly conclude that it can’t be good for it in the long run, especially in cases where the wound doesn’t close fully, presenting an opportunity for disease or insects to harm the tree.  And in more severe cases, where a cable, for example, is wrapped very tightly around a tree, it’s certainly easy for such an object to girdle a tree’s vascular system resulting in eventual death.
In general, we recommend that nothing should be left on trees long term, whether it be ropes/wires used for staking, holiday lights, etc…Here at the Arb we take the time to both install and remove all holiday lights used on our trees for both the health of the trees and to recycle/reuse our energy efficient, costly LED lights.  In most cases, nothing should really be allowed to be hung, tied, draped, attached, etc…to a tree in the first place, otherwise it gives some people ideas which can quickly get out of hand, which include the installation of hammocks, garden art, baby swings, tree houses, outdoor lighting, outdoor speakers, bike racks, signage, etc…While bubble lighting in the photos is likely harmless in the short term, it sets a bad precedent for the average Joe who doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of such actions in the long run.
Todd Jacobson, The Morton Arboretum

And then I received a phone call on Friday. It was from City of Evanston Arborist Mark Younger, who said he was checking out the trees to make sure the the lights weren’t wrapped too tightly. He also sent this letter of Jane Alexander:


I wanted to follow up with you regarding the parkway trees located at Church Street Plaza along the 1700 block of Maple Street in Evanston.  I inspected the string lighting attached to the tree trunks again this morning.  As you mentioned they have become snug against the trunks.  I met with the Director of Operations for Church Street Plaza, Mr. Robert Gilbert, and we reviewed the trees together.  Rob is having all the lighting adjusted today, and has assured me that they will adjust the lights regularly as needed in the future.   The attached email from Rob shows the management companies commitment to our urban trees. Thank you for making us aware of this situation.  Please let me know if you have any further questions.

That’s what I call a rapid response. Mark Younger joins me on the program this morning to talk about the dangers of “decorating” trees with lights and other objects. We will also chat about an event that takes place this Saturday, June 23 in McHenry County. It’s the Ride for Research to benefit the TREE Fund.

It’s a 35-mile loop through McHenry County with members of Team Illinois (go team!) from the 2012 STIHL Tour des Trees. After the ride, there’s food, fun and music. The donation to ride is $50 and that gets you the post-ride barbeque. Or, if you just want to wave to the riders and eat barbeque, the fee is only $25. For more information, call April Toney at 877/617-8887 or email: Organizers ask that you RSVP by Wednesday, June 20.

I’m also pleased to have Mary DiCarlo, Fund Development Specialist for The TREE Fund on this morning’s show.

Is “food” a campaign issue in 2012?

If there’s a person more passionate about food issues than Debbie Hillman, I can’t tell you who it is. I met her several years ago, when I did the Rooted in Austin broadcast from the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago in the Austin neighborhood.

Debbie is a Chicago native who has lived in Evanston since 1976. For 25 years, she was a professional gardener for 25 years. But it was her work as an community activist that helped her use her horticultural background to become an urban agriculture zealot. In 2005, she co-founded the Evanston Food Council, a grassroots organization.

In 2006, Debbie and the Evanston Food Council began working with Evanston’s State Representative Julie Hamos and a large statewide coalition. They helped alert citizens to the awful truth that a state with some of the richest farm land on the planet was importing 95% of its food. As a result, the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act. was passed in 2007.

Debbie coordinated the 2-year task force created by IFFJA.  Based on the task force report  (Local Food, Farms, and Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy , 2009), the Illinois General Assembly created a permanent state body (Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council) to create an Illinois-based food and farm economy.

And now she is announcing the first project of her brand new food system consulting business,
D. Hillman Strategies: Food Policy for Voters. Debbie has created an Illinois Food Survey, which will measure just how important food issues are to Illinois voters. The Illinois survey is a pilot for a national survey which will be activated in June, following the June primaries in 15 states

As she explains on her website:

For 60+ years, American voters’ food attention and resources have been over-focused on creating a global food system, to the detriment of every local farm and food economy in the world, including local food economies in the U.S.  Symptoms of local food system disfunction are manifest in every American community, in every sector of community life.

Public health : Reduced lifespan, skyrocketing healthcare costs
Increasing infant mortality
Hunger, malnutrition, over-nutrition, mono-nutrition, eating disorders
Epidemics of obesity, diabetes 2, cardiovascular disease
Suicides and chronic mental health problems of farmers, mothers, and other caretakers who can’t make the $$ and hours add up no matter how hard they work

Education : Loss of basic life skills and cultural heritage
Loss of food literacy (nutrition, health, soil, water, climate, energy, history, culture, biodiversity, farming and food traditions)
Loss of food skills (growing, shopping, storing, cooking, feeding, preserving, composting)
Reduced competency in collective decision-making, especially through government
Confusion about money, banking, basic financial operations

and more.  Can Debbie Hillman help draw attention to food issues in time to make a difference in the 2012 election? We’ll know in a few months. Meanwhile, she stops by to talk to me in studio this morning.

Two bills: Governor Quinn, sign one, veto the other

As the General Assembly in Springfield wrapped up its legislative business at the end of May, one of the victories for Chicago environmentalists was the passage of HB 3881, which will effectively ban landfills in Cook County…assuming that Governor Pat Quinn signs it.

Right now, it sits on his desk, and the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) is urging its supporters to call the governor’s office to tell him to affix his signature to the legislation.That number is 312-814-2121. You can keep track of the progress of the bill by loggin on to the No Chicago Landfills Facebook page.

And while you’re on the phone to the governor, you should tell him to veto another bill that is on his desk. That one is SB 3766, which, according the SETF, would force Ameren, People’s Gas and Nicor to purchase more expensive synthetic gas produced by Leucadia’s proposed coal gasification plant on the southeast side. In addition to being bad for Illinois gas customers, it’s yet another environmental slap in the face to the southeast side of Chicago.

Repeat after me: There is No Such Thing as Clean Coal.

The Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club agrees and you can log in here to voice your concerns to the governor. In the words of the Sierra Club, “SB3766 would not only force NICOR and Ameren ratepayers to buy the dirty synthetic gas produced by Leucadia, it also forces themto finance 100% of the construction costs for the scuzzy coal-to-gas plant!”

This sweetheart deal is bad for our pocketbooks and bad for the environment. The plant is planned for the heart of Chicago’s southeast side, just two blocks from Washington High School. The project’s pollution will impact more than 10,000 students and the many families who live nearby over the 30-year project life.”

You know what to do. Let’s get it done.