Esther Short Park losing another tree

Monday's windstorm mortally damages older Norway Maple

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

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Jason Oldham grabbed the chain saw from the back of his white Vancouver Public Works truck and looked around briefly before going to work on yet another tree downed by a windstorm in Esther Short Park.

The big Norway maple, which lost a good chunk of its trunk in the overnight storm that ended Monday morning, will have to be completely removed. It follows three sweetgums removed after a strong windstorm in late September.

"We looked at it and the tree has a big rotten spot in the middle," said Oldham, who's worked for the department as a grounds specialist for 14 years. "It will have to go. We had the tops of some other trees go last year, some big branches."

Oldham and other workers removed the damaged part of the tree on Tuesday morning. The rest of the tree, which is near the park's playground, will likely be removed over the next week, he said.

"We had some of the urban foresters out here looking at it," Oldham said. "We don't want to leave anything hanging around near the playground."

The playground area is safe, but leaving the remaining portions of the tree for a prolonged time could weaken it, so it must go, said Vancouver urban forester Charles Ray.

The city will hire a contractor to remove the remaining trunk and branches.

The sweetgums that came out late last year were also past their prime and ready to go. The trees were about 60 years old and had grown brittle at the end of their lifespan.

The park's other silver maple and Norway maple trees are also close to the end of their 60- to 100-year lives and will likely have to be removed and replaced over the next few years. Many of the park's trees were planted in the early 1900s, Ray said.

"The majority of trees there in the park are those Norway maples, which have that shorter lifespan," Ray said.

Public Works will likely change them out with slower-growing trees such as oaks, red maples and sugar maples.

"We met after the turn of the year and came up with a strategy for interplanting so it's not as noticeable and we won't have just a bunch of young trees out there," Ray said. "People really like the shade trees and the grand trees in the northern section of the park, and we understand that."

Lined up in rows, the maple logs cut by Oldham's chain saw looked like ideal firewood, but, unfortunately, nobody from Vancouver Public Works can keep it. They have to throw it out to avoid the appearance of favoritism, Oldham said.

"I'm sure the guys at the dump will grab it and use it at least," Oldham said. "It's beautiful firewood."

The next generation of Esther Short Park trees will be long-lived, deep-rooted trees with smaller leaves that let more filtered light into the park, he said.

That's one good thing about the big maple dropping; it will help more grass grow near the park's playground, Oldham said.

"There are so many trees, it's hard to get enough light for grass," Oldham said. "So this will actually help out."

Replacing other trees that are past their prime will also help more grass grow in other brown spots in Esther Short Park, Ray said.

The three sweetgum trees will be replaced with an ash, an oak and an elm for diversity. The new ones should go in sometime in March, Ray said.

One will become Vancouver's official Tree City USA marker in honor of the 25th anniversary of the award given by the Arbor Day Foundation, he added.

"City crews did a great job of cleaning this all up," Ray said of Tuesday's work. "It's just unfortunate that all these trees are getting old."