The city of Missoula's largest new budget request for 2015 isn't to pay for improved public transportation, park management or employee salary increases. It's a $320,000 request for pruning Norway maple trees.
If the funding is approved, it will be used to hire crews to remove dead wood from the shady deciduous trees that dominate the local landscape. By pruning the trees, the city hopes to delay the death of nearly half of the urban forest.
According to a tree census the city began last summer and has nearly completed, Norway maples comprise approximately 40 percent of Missoula's street-tree population. A significant portion of these trees were planted at approximately the same time, in the early 20th century, and many of them are now nearing the ends of their lifespans.
"The idea or goal is by pruning and treating these trees to almost a pampering level is that we extend the life as long as possible to give us sufficient time to try and get other trees to grow, so that when they do start to die off, there's a forest coming behind them," Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler says.
In addition to buying time for other trees to grow, the city hopes to keep the Norway maples alive long enough to complete a long-term urban forest management plan. That long-term plan will aim to develop a more diverse stand of trees citywide. Greater diversity will mean more manageable tree die-offs in the future and better protection against the spread of tree disease.
As the city develops its urban forest master plan, Parks and Recreation is seeking public input. In April, some 1,000 residents were selected to complete an online survey about how they would like to see city trees maintained.
"All those benefits are things that we can begin to assign actual numbers or measures to help citizens not only subconsciously know that they like trees," Gaukler says, "but help them consciously articulate what it is they're getting from those trees."