Around 4 a.m. on Monday, October 29, Bill Davies’s phone started ringing. The co-owner of Westchester Tree Life was ready. Thanks to accurate weather forecasts, he had already begun preparations for Hurricane Sandy and had taken precautions during the previous week to insure that his firm was well equipped to provide assistance to as many homeowners as possible. The equipment was in excellent working condition and crews had been working feverishly; steeling up weak trees and pruning.
Increased profits were far from Davies’s mind as he began assigning workers and divvying up tasks. “I hate seeing storms like this,” he noted. “Our business is preservation.” He spoke with reverence about the many trees his firm has planted and maintained for 27 years. To this avid hiker, seeing so many of them destroyed was devastating.
The destruction left in Sandy’s wake, gave Davies pause. As a veteran of his industry, he has definitely noticed a dramatic change in the severity of storms. “The four or five worst storms have occurred in the past two and a half years,” Davies said. The greatest number of sizable trees–in terms of diameter–were lost in this storm than ever before.
In Davies’s eyes, the character of the entire area has been altered by the storm, leaving a leafy suburb in need of reforestation. “It changes the whole suburban woodlot,” Davies began. “If I could suggest one thing to property owners, I’d say start to replace.” He urges everyone to place a high priority on replanting at least one or two trees a year to reconstitute landscapes.
Instead of rushing to replant here and there, Davies prefers a measured approach. As a certified arborist, he counsels people on choosing sturdy, disease resistant replacements and stresses the importance of “diversity.” When blights strike, an entire species can be wiped out. By choosing a variety of trees, the homeowner mitigates the chances of massive loss. An optimal mix also includes trees of different ages. While Davies cited oaks, maples and sycamores as being viable choices, he also stressed that different types will thrive on every site.
The process of deciding whether damaged trees can be saved is a delicate one. In last year’s October storm, heavy snow took a toll on many branches. This kind of destruction meant that many more trees could be saved. In contrast, vast numbers of trees were toppled by gusts of 75 to 80 miles per hour during Hurricane Sandy. “With enough wind, even healthy trees can fail,” Davies observed. Large numbers of white pines and Norway spruce fell due to their shallow roots.
Topography also played a major role during Sandy. Davies explained that many of the old oaks in Chappaqua are located on hillsides. The strength of their root systems is hindered by growing in rocks, thus rendering them too weak to resist gale force winds.
Two weeks after the storm, activity changed to clean-up mode. Due to the extraordinary amount of mulch generated from the fallen trees, it is first hauled away from individual sites and then picked up by a contractor. For those looking ahead to preparing beds in the spring or cushioning playgrounds, mulch may be left on site.
The environmental impact of the storm was monumental. The loss of so many trees means an increase in erosion. This affects not only the individual homeowner but their neighbors as well. “That’s why there’s a tree permit law,” Davies observed. This regulation requires property owners to obtain a permit before removing any trees.
Tree companies were definitely not the only ones working tirelessly in the aftermath of the storm. Workers from utility, cable, phone and heating companies flooded the area. Davies noted that everyone cooperated and helped each other whenever possible. His firm made sure that driveways were clear so that other workers could gain access to damaged properties.
On the subject of prevention, Davies mentioned the importance of having a solid maintenance program in place. One of the techniques his workers used before the storm was cabling. By securing elements of a tree together with cables, the entire structure is fortified. Another tool is the resistograph; a device that checks for decay. When significant weakness is detected, removal is recommended.
As the pace of his work slowed down a wee bit, Davies took a moment to reflect. “Go see the Bedford Oak,” he exhorted. This approximately 500-year-old treasure still reigns at the intersection of Hook Road and Old Bedford Road.
Sarah Ellen Rindsberg knows the importance of preventive maintenance first hand after losing a car to a tree.
Photo by Peter Martin