COLUMBIA, SC — Over the past five years, the city of Columbia has planted more trees alongside streets than it has removed because of disease or instability.
With an urban tree canopy mostly planted 60 to 80 years ago, Columbia’s largest trees are reaching the end of life.
But the city’s tree division is keeping up with replacement trees — in part with the help of Columbia Green, a nonprofit that promotes public beautification, and a private fundraising effort by the city called The Forever Forest.
While 1,999 trees were cut down since July 2007, 2,359 trees were planted during the same period for a net gain of 360 trees, based on figures provided by Sara Hollar, the city’s forestry and beautification superintendent.
That doesn’t take into account the 509 trees that Hollar said will be planted during this tree-planting season, December through March.
“We have 45,000 trees, so that’s a lot,” Hollar said.
“A lot of the trees throughout the city were planted at the same time. A lot of people think the trees are older than what they are.”
Some may live a lot longer, Hollar said.
Others will not.
In recent years, the city has been trying to diversify the types of trees planted along streets to promote resistance to disease, and to plant low-growing trees under power lines so they won’t be subjected to the severe pruning that generates outrage from residents.
The city division still plants mostly oaks, but several types of oaks because they do well here, said Hollar, who oversees a $2.2 million annual budget and 39 employees, five of them arborists.
Among the 620 trees planted last year, Hollar said 104 were funded by grants.
Columbia Green has joined with the city to meet a goal of planting 10,000 trees. The effort is 3,000 trees toward the goal, president Ann Holtschlag said, leading her to think all 10,000 trees could be planted by 2015.
“We’re cranking along, and the city helps,” she said. “They plant huge amounts.”
Anyone who plants a tree can include it in the total by registering on the Columbia Green website at www.columbiagreen.org.
Columbia Green has handed out grants to encourage the planting of trees in neighborhoods and at schools, churches and parks, like Earlewood and Maxcy Gregg, she said.
The group’s $25,000 in grants — which Holtschlag said has financed the planting of perhaps 200 trees, some of them “giant ones” — runs out a year from now.
The planting of trees “adds to the livability and the beauty of the greater Columbia area,” she said.
“It cleans the air. It calms the nerves, and it’s a nice place to look when you’re caught in traffic.”
The group’s donation to the community was made to commemorate its 25th anniversary in 2009.
On a related note, Hollar said the city continues to monitor the work of South Carolina Electric & Gas tree trimmers, after a community outcry this past year over the cutting of city trees lining streets in the Shandon and Rosewood neighborhoods downtown.
Hollar said she hasn’t seen any real problems.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.