Severe weather, dying trees and short staffing lead to year-long backlog of tree removals

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 7:31 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - After last weekend’s storm, 10/11 NOW viewers raised a concern about city trees they believed were dangerous waiting to be removed for more than a year.

“It’s getting unacceptable,” Jana Biskup, who has had her tree on the list for 13 months, said.

Lincoln Parks and Recreation Director Lynn Johnson said these two women are far from the only ones waiting for removal.

Johnson said there were more than 700 trees on the list for removal that they didn’t have time to get to last year because of severe weather between June and October.

“Last year we paused the entire summer so we weren’t doing any routine work at all,” Johnson said. “We spent an entire five plus month period responding to storm damage.”

Johnson said when it storms in Lincoln, their team of arborists are responsible for removing all limbs from city trees that are on streets, sidewalks and property, clean up brush and remove damaged trees.

In 2020 they removed more than 1,100 non-ash trees. Johnson said that’s about 500 more than they’d remove in a normal year. However, there’s still around 770 listed in 2020 they didn’t get to before January hit.

“We’re telling people it’s going to be several months, up to a year, before we even get to the trees added to the list last year,” Johnson said.

Already this year, 440 more trees have been added to the list.

“We’re seeing more large trees reaching the end of their life than we would be normally,” Johnson said.

Another contributor to the delay is a lack of staffing, Johnson said.

The city employs 24 arborists. Five of them focus solely on tree removal related to the Emerald Ash Borer. This leaves 19 others to maintain the rest of the city’s public trees.

“We have less arborists than we did 15 years ago yet we have 20 percent more trees,” Johnsons aid.

Johnson said, on average, crews can remove four to six trees a day. This means it would take them more than 220 days to remove all 1,210 on the list. There are only around 260 working days in a year and large trees and storms set the teams behind.

Johnson said they are starting to have conversations with city officials about hiring more arborists.

“Especially if the city wants to keep planting more trees,” Johnson said.

If you have a tree that’s been marked for removal you can call the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department to find out where it falls on the priority list. Johnson said trees are prioritized based on their condition and date added to the list.

If your tree has been on the list for a while and it’s condition has changed you can also request an inspector come out to see if it needs moved up on the priority list.

The phone number for Lincoln Parks and Recreation is 402-441-7847.

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