Stop assault on shade trees

Viewpoint

Trees are a major economic and environmental asset: They reduce runoff, conserve energy, reduce wind, absorb pollutants, intercept particles like dust, release oxygen, lower air temperature, absorb atmospheric carbon, increase quality of life and raise property values.

The urban forest is being threatened around the world. Here at home on Maui, there is an assault on some of Maui’s long-standing shade trees and the county planning processes created to protect and preserve Maui’s urban forest.

In May, three large, healthy monkeypod trees were removed from Ho’aloha Park in Kahului by the county Parks and Recreation Department. The reason given was to get rid of the homeless, but homeless problems remain unsolved. With the mature trees gone, the shade and ambiance of this beautiful park were lost.

Last month over 40 healthy, mature trees surrounding the Kihei Community Center were marked for removal and no real reason was given by the county. Quick action from the community saved these trees.

We were shocked to see the initial destruction of the green belt of 43 mature monkeypod trees along Kihei’s Piilani highway. The trees are at least 25 years old, and healthy.

Apparently the trees were part of subdivision requirements set by the county Planning Department. The trees have been maintained by the homeowners association. Now instead of continuing the annual maintenance of the trees, which might have included root pruning and hiring a certified arborist, residents have been told they are responsible. Area residents will regret the lost shade that reduced the heat from the black asphalt highway, provided a noise buffer and erosion control and filtered air pollutants. Maui residents and visitors will miss the sense of place these beautiful trees provided at the entrance to Kihei. There might have been other solutions.

Across the island, street trees and parking lot trees are being “whacked” (improperly pruned) and sometimes topped or cut down. These practices harm the trees by removing their food source and destroy the beauty and health of the tree, plus reducing or removing the shade created by these trees.

Street trees are required of developments and are considered county trees. Parking lot trees are another requirement (one tree for every five stalls). The latest edition of the Maui County Planting Plan (MCPP) defines that trees planted need to be allowed to grow to their full canopy size.

Maui Green & Beautiful offers the following recommendations to protect the urban forest and county-required trees:

1) Follow the Maui County Planting Plan (MCPP), an advisory document to all Maui County departments, including Planning and Public Works. The MCPP contains important guidelines on trees, and also covers the landscape itself. It can be found on the Maui County website or call the Parks and Recreation Department for a hard copy.

2) Protect all healthy and mature trees from being removed without prior approval by the Maui County Arborist Committee. Require all tree issues to be presented to them for referral to county departments or the Maui County arborist. Was the Maui County Arborist Committee consulted on any of the tree issues mentioned?

3) Create an advisory team to protect and properly maintain Maui’s urban forest through ordinances, possible tax or energy credit incentives and community outreach.

Maui is lucky to have knowledgeable resources like Mr. Ernest Rezents, one of the state’s two internationally recognized “International Society of Arboriculture True Professionals of Arboriculture.”

Maui Green & Beautiful has assisted community members who sought help in saving mature, healthy trees. We are committed to our mission of protecting our island trees and open space through education and community action. We call on the mayor and Maui County Council to protect our urban forest through enforcement and by example.

We encourage Maui communities and individuals to get involved. Let’s stop this assault on Maui’s shade trees and urban forest. If you have a ‘tree issue’ or would like to help, please contact Maui Green & Beautiful at www.mauibeautiful.org.

* Elaine Malina is president of Maui Green & Beautiful (formerly Maui Outdoor Circle) and an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist with over 30 years in the professional landscape industry.

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