New program aims to renew Powell's aging urban forest

Posted 1/10/19

The beautiful ash trees lining city hall will be gone and so will most of Powell’s oldest trees. Sooner rather than later, invasive insects and age will take them all.

Powell is 110 years …

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New program aims to renew Powell's aging urban forest


The beautiful ash trees lining city hall will be gone and so will most of Powell’s oldest trees. Sooner rather than later, invasive insects and age will take them all.

Powell is 110 years old this year and 100 years is about as long as a tree can live in the desert region, said Josh Pomeroy, the owner of Blue Ribbon Tree Service.

Now, he and City Arborist Del Barton are seeking to start a new tree planting project that they hope will take the city through the next century.

Pomeroy has been hosting a program, Between Every Two Pines, every third Thursday of the month. At the Thursday, Jan. 17 meeting, he and Barton will be presenting a plan to start a tree-planting program called Homesteader Roots. Next week’s meeting, which is usually held at the Gestalt Studios, will be held at Northwest College.

“It’s important to get the public involved,” Pomeroy said.

Homesteader Roots copies a successful program in Cheyenne, which plants hundreds of trees a year. The Powell program wouldn’t be as aggressive, but Pomeroy hopes to plant at least 50 trees a year.

“It’s a way to make planting trees in the community a lot more cost effective,” he said.

Barton is known for thinking outside of the box on finding grants and funding for tree projects and he’s hoping to secure a grant to help fund Homesteaders Roots.

Before Powell was founded in 1909, there were no trees, just brush. Often, homesteaders found the value of trees so important they would plant before they built their homes, Pomeroy said. Residents and wildlife now enjoy the shade and shelter of the city’s green canopy. But they must be maintained, and at this point in the city’s history it’s time to start planting anew, he said.

The city subcontracted Bartlett Tree Experts to inventory Powell’s trees last spring. They counted more than 3,500 trees growing on public land, greenways and right-of-ways, spread across 20 varieties.

About one-seventh of all trees on city property and right-of-ways are ash, while the species makes up closer to 50 percent of the trees on private property, Pomeroy said. Ash were added as the most recent “outlaw” tree in the city. That’s an effort to stop losses once the emerald ash borer makes it to Powell.  Once infected with the insect, the tree will die. And the borer is already on the region’s doorstep.

“It’s not if, but when it arrives,” Pomeroy said.

In addition to next week’s tree-focused meeting, the city is planning its annual Arbor Day celebration at The Commons on April 26. There will be several entities represented at the festival as well as a chance to get free seedlings.

Want to plant a tree? Don’t forget a permit

In Powell, you can’t just walk out your front door and plant a tree. Johnny Appleseed would’ve been considered a scofflaw here, as you need a permit to plant a tree in the city.

The permit is free, but the location and species need to be approved by Powell’s arborist, Del Barton. Those planting trees in the city limits are also required to sign an agreement to properly care for their tree. A tree is a commitment that will last for generations and is regulated by a dozen ordinances.

The permit process is for good reason, Barton said.

“There’s a lot of liability that goes along with the care and maintenance of trees,” he said. “Here in Powell, we have some of what I think are the best ordinances guiding us into the future and setting the tone of how tree care should be done in a municipality.”

Barton attends a lot of conferences and he said he’s constantly complimented on Powell’s tree ordinances being ahead of the curve. They spell out where and how trees can be planted and outlaw a dozen trees and shrubs. They also protect homeowners from disreputable tree companies. “We don’t want someone coming in here doing work that’s not done properly,” Barton said.

Barton loves trees. He has a degree in forestry and has spent his entire life working as either a park ranger or an arborist for municipalities. He came back to Powell after 15 years in Lima, Ohio, where there’s a living tree in front of the high school that was actually planted by Johnny Appleseed. After spending much of his career as a park ranger at the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, he couldn’t stay away from Powell any longer.

“It was an itch that had to be scratched,” he said.

Barton cares for the city’s trees and the Powell Arboretum. The arboretum was planted in 2016 with the help of Cub Scout Pack 144, as a 10-year research project.

“It’s time to look for [species] to replace the city’s aging trees that aren’t going to be susceptible to insect problems or that tear up the sidewalks with their roots. The arboretum will help us find the trees that are most suitable for Powell,” Barton said.

The one-acre tree garden, in Veterans Park, has lines of trees, but is relatively unknown.

“Not a lot of people know it’s here,” Barton said.

There are 36 species, 62 trees in all, planted and monitored carefully to find out the best trees to plant in the future. A few have already proved too weak to endure Powell’s climate. Others are obvious successes, like the Triumph Elm. They are resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, tolerant of drought and do well during elm leaf beetle infestations.

The arboretum was paid for with a Community Forestry Partnership cost-sharing grant from the Wyoming State Forestry Division in 2015. A recent grant also paid for the publishing of a guidebook for tree planting and establishment in the city — free for the taking at the Powell parks department, where Barton is the superintendent.

“People here really love their trees,” he said. “They can refer to the guidebook to get them moving in the right direction.”

Editor's note: This version corrects Barton's title.