HANSON — In the wake of the Oct. 30 windstorm, and with a new storm howling at Town Hall windows on Tuesday, Dec. 5, trees were very much on the minds of the Board of Selectmen — and winter has not yet officially begun.
Management of the town’s trees was the subject of two discussions between the board and Tree Warden Dave Hanlon during his department report as well as on the Town’s Forestry Management plan with Conservation Commission Chairman Phil Clemons.
“It’s always a good day when town officials show an interest in trees, which isn’t done everyday, unless there’s a crisis,” Clemons said, noting there are areas of town where the interests of the Conservation Commission, Tree Department and homeowners overlap.
“We’re trying to be a part of understanding how to manage forests,” he said. Some varieties of shade trees popular 50 years ago are now illegal for nurseries to sell because they are considered exotic or invasive.
Town Administrator Michael McCue said he has been discussing a lot of the points raised at the meeting concerning repopulation of trees with Clemons and Hanlon.
“These past two storms that we had, they really wiped out the overtime line for the Highway Department, because the men on the Highway Department were picking up trees,” Hanlon said. “If it wasn’t for the cooperation we’ve had from National Grid, we’d be in a lot worse shape.”
Through the Department of Public Utilities, National Grid has invested a lot of money in removing trees that present a hazard to both the public and power lines, he reported. The utility also reviews its vegetation management plan with towns every year —their work is at no cost to the town.
Hanlon, appointed in December 2015 and elected to the post in May 2016, has worked under past tree warden Bob Brown. The tree department budget has been $2,000 for “quite a long time,” occasionally supplemented at Town Meeting, Hanlon said.
In May, Town Meeting increased that budget to $25,000 a year.
That is still not a great deal of money in view of the fact that most tree-removal work for the town is done by private contractor or the Highway Department, according to Hanlon.
The Highway Department “will take down trees that they have to, but for years our tree removal policy has been, ‘When it fell down, we picked it up,’” he said. “Now, the last couple of years, we’ve been very aggressive in trying to take down dangerous and diseased trees before they fall. … Just because there are leaves on the tree doesn’t mean that it’s not dead — or dying, or damaged.”
Hanlon also advocated for a new commercial-grade wood chipper, which cost about $60,000. Such a machine would last about 20 years for town use, where the same machine would last about eight years for commercial use. Selectmen suggested placing it before Town Meeting.
Calls from residents are being prioritized based on the condition of the trees. To get a tree on the removal list, call the Highway Department office at 781-293-2822.
Hanlon also said that trees struck by vehicles in traffic accidents will be removed and another tree replanted, through the vehicle operators’ insurance.
“We’re trying to get back into planting more trees,” he said, noting the town’s Tree City USA program has helped.
“One of the things that makes our town attractive is its tree population — I know it sounds kind of corny, but it’s true,” said Selectmen Chairman James McGahan.
The department has also removed about 10 trees from the area around Camp Kiwanee’s Needles Lodge that presented a danger to the building and the public. An additional 46 trees were removed to permit the installation of a new septic system at the facility.
About 60 more trees along the entrance road will also have to be removed as diseased or dying trees, which will be more expensive than the tree department budget permits.
Clemons said some of those trees are invasive species and argued there may be better choices for varieties of replacement trees.
“For liability reasons, it should be looked at,” Hanlon also said. “When the trees come down, it gives us the possibility of widening the road for better access as well as planting other trees.”
Many of the trees in question at Camp Kiwanee are not native trees, which is another consideration, both Hanlon and Clemons said.
Hanlon also said residents have asked if they were permitted to take wood from removed trees to use in home fireplaces and woodstoves. He said the wood is given over to the tree removal companies during pricing negotiations to obtain the best price for the town. The companies, in turn, sell log-length wood for lumber and chipped wood to paper mills.
“We’re not allowing people to come onto town property, using a chain saw, cutting up logs … the whole liability issue,” he said.
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked about residents who might help themselves to felled tree wood.
“One word for that might be theft,” Clemons said, also pointing to the wood removed as a valuable part of the negotiated contract price for tree removal services. “We wish that to not happen.”
Anyone witnessing persons cutting trees on town property are encouraged to call police.