Independent arborist: Warfield Place trees in Northampton should go

  • Bartlett Tree Experts—Digital screenshot

  • Rich Parasiliti, the Northampton Tree Warden, talks about the aphid infestation,Shothole Leafminers, and basic decay of the Cherry Trees on Warfield Place in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rich Parasiliti, the Northampton Tree Warden, talks about the aphid infestation,Shothole Leafminers, and basic decay of the Cherry Trees on Warfield Place in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rich Parasiliti, the Northampton tree warden, talks about the aphid infestation, leafminers and basic decay of the cherry trees on Warfield Place in Northampton. The material wrapped around the tree was added as part of a ceremony last week that ordained all the street’s trees as Zen Buddhist priests. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Rich Parasiliti, the Northampton Tree Warden, talks about the aphid infestation,Shothole Leafminers, and basic decay of the Cherry Trees on Warfield Place in Northampton. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • An undated photo shows the condition of the pavement on Warfield Place in Northampton. Paulina Rigano-Murray—Contributed photo

  • An undated photo shows the condition of the sidewalk on Warfield Place in Northampton. Paulina Rigano-Murray—Contributed photo

  • An undated photo shows the condition of a tree on Warfield Place in Northampton. CONTRIBUTED/PAULINA RIGANO-MURRAY

Staff Writer
Published: 7/21/2021 9:46:10 AM

NORTHAMPTON — An independent assessment of the 10 trees neighbors are seeking to protect from removal on Warfield Place recommends that all but one be removed, citing insect damage, evidence of internal decay and the effects of the plant disease known as fire blight.

The June 29 report by Bartlett Tree Experts, released to the Gazette on Monday night, is the latest expert opinion in favor of removing the street’s trees in order to accommodate a repaving project. The residents of Warfield Place are pushing back against the city’s plans, saying their beloved trees should be allowed to live out their natural lives.

The project will widen the sidewalk on the side of the street that’s lined by the trees, and remove the crumbling sidewalk on the other side, a change that the city says is in line with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements. Plans call for one-inch diameter saplings to be planted after the removal of the existing trees; the species of the saplings is not yet determined.

The city’s tree warden, Richard Parasiliti, is responsible for assessing the condition of public trees, said Department of Public Works Director Donna LaScaleia, and the city bases removal decisions on his recommendations. In light of criticism from Warfield Place residents, the DPW decided to conduct an independent review of Parasiliti’s assessment that the trees should come down.

“We took the extraordinary step of engaging an outside party,” LaScaleia said. “This is not something that we would typically do,” but the department wanted to confirm that removal was the right decision “in a way that would give everyone confidence.”

Greg Beck, a Northampton-based, board-certified master arborist, wrote the report for Bartlett Tree Experts. He identified eight Kwanzan cherry trees, one sweet cherry and one eastern redbud on Warfield Place.

Beck found that two trees are in “fair” condition — one Kwanzan cherry and the sweet cherry — while the rest are in “poor” condition.

“All of the cherry trees are showing signs of disease and insect damage, most notably fire blight, aphids, and secondary boring insects,” the report reads. “Just about every cherry tree has at least a few trunk wounds, frost cracks, and cankers on the trunks and/or major scaffold limbs.”

Beck classified seven of the trees as “over-mature,” estimating that each of the cherries is nearing the end of its expected lifespan of 15 to 30 years. The report describes conks, or mushrooms, growing on some of the trees’ bark, which indicates “an unknown amount of internal decay.”

The sweet cherry tree is the only one that the report does not explicitly recommend for removal, but it does note the appearance of fire blight and calls for dead limb removal and pruning. Every tree’s roots is lifting the sidewalk, which suggests that repaving the area would be “extremely challenging without significantly negatively impacting the trees.”

“It is my professional opinion that none of these trees will survive construction of the road, even with the best tree protection practices in place,” Beck wrote. “Investing much in tree preservation with little chance of success at this point in the trees’ lives may not be advisable given current tree conditions, age classification, and site specific conditions.”

A group of Warfield Place residents dubbed Save the Cherry Trees arranged for the trees to become ordained Buddhist priests last week, organized letter-writing and phone call campaigns to city offices, met with Mayor David Narkewicz and DPW officials, and launched an online petition with more than 2,200 signatures calling for the city to spare the trees.

LaScaleia said the Bartlett report was commissioned in an effort to address the residents’ concerns.

“We have been listening. We have heard everything that has been said, and we have tried really hard to be responsive to that,” LaScaleia said.

Oliver Krellhammer, a Warfield Place resident who is an assistant professor of sustainable systems at The New School’s Parsons School of Design in New York, said Beck’s report shouldn’t be considered fully independent.

“Bartlett is a big contractor for the city, and (officials are) going on about how it’s an outside report,” Krellhammer said. “They wanted to back up their preexisting feelings about the trees.”

Beck did not answer calls or respond to a request for comment. LaScaleia rejected the suggestion that the Bartlett report could unfairly favor the city’s position, saying officials have “no reason to believe they would risk their professional reputation by preparing a biased report for any client, much less the city.”

Krellhammer also teaches permaculture, a land management approach that emphasizes biodiversity and agricultural production. He said the neighborhood wanted a participatory design process that “took into account the cultural and ecological values of the street.”

“They don’t say anywhere in the report that there’s a danger to the public. … The trees might die. Everything dies,” said Krellhammer, adding that some cherry trees in Japan are hundreds or thousands of years old. “When trees are old, they can have more ecological function, because you can have bats or cavity-nesting birds inside.”

He said a major issue is shade, since the removal of the trees will cause the air and surface temperatures on the street to climb.

“That shade substantially cools the pavement, to the point where we’ve been measuring changes of 50° F between the shaded and unshaded pavement,” Krellhammer said. “They’re old trees. Maybe there’s a few things wrong with them. But we want them to die on their own, and to be looked after until that happens. The trees don’t have to come down at this moment.”

Save the Cherry Trees asked certified arborist John Berryhill to inspect the trees earlier this month. In a letter posted on the group’s website, he wrote that the cherry trees are “experiencing a rare and precious moment of maturity.”

“I have heard the terms ‘pathogen,’ ‘decay’ and ‘decline’ used to describe the condition of these trees and can say with extreme confidence that they are not diseased, not in rapid decline, and are actually showing signs or (sic) vitality,” Berryhill wrote. “I must strongly push back against the idea that these trees are frail, causing unacceptable risk, and good candidates for removal.”

Parasiliti, the tree warden, said the trees on Warfield Place are running out of space to grow their roots. The repaving plan calls for the use of structural soil, a special blend of gravel and soil that is designed to allow for root growth.

It remains unclear when the work will begin, but residents anticipate that the project will get underway by the end of the month. Krellhammer said the neighborhood expects to receive 24 hours’ notice of the associated parking ban.

“There may be direct action. I’ve heard from a lot of people who say they will protect these trees at all costs,” Krellhammer said. “No one knows how long a tree is going to live. We’re saying, let them live as long as they can.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.


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