Maintaining Kalispell’s Urban Forest

Kalispell, Montana received the honorable recognition of “Tree City” for the last 25 years. The city maintains its trees with an urban forest budget under the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Kalispell is continually dealing with cleanup from windstorms as well as tree pruning, tree removal, and new tree plantings. Years ago, the city’s goal was to prune its trees at least once every seven years. So far, that goal has not been reached. “We want to develop a forestry program where we can address these tree calls, because the branches are hanging over sidewalks, these trees need to be pruned or removed. There is a whole gamut of stuff here that we need to do.” Says Mike Baker, Kalispell’s director of Parks and Recreation Department.

Maintaining the urban forest by replanting trees in spots where trees were removed is a long-term challenge. At the moment, more than 2000 vacant tree spots need to be replanted, and last year only 53 trees were planted. Residents put their names on a waiting list to get a tree planted. The wait used to be two years, but this has now been reduced to one year by having the people who request a tree assume part of the cost. A number of people have taken advantage of this program.

Dutch elm disease is also a factor in the city’s tree maintenance. Over the last five years, about 250 American elms have been removed. Previously, the city received state grant money for these removals, but the cost is being shifted back to the city. The elms are inventoried every year and if there is even one branch that is still green, the city doesn’t mark it for removal. If the city doesn’t find any other funding for the removal of these large American elms, these costs will be a large part of the urban forest budget.

“We’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now,” said Baker. “We’re doing the best we can. We’re still protecting our urban forest, but it’s going to need more attention, and that’s critical to guarantee these trees will be around for a long time.”