Ward 6 Arborist Talks About Trees: DDOT Works to Clear Storm-downed Branches

Alex Grieve, Ward 6 DC Urban Forestry Arborist, appeared before ANC6C’s virtual meeting of the Environment, Parks and Events Committee Tuesday night. Photo: Larry Janezich

Ward 6 Arborist Talks About Trees: DDOT Is Working to Clear Storm-downed Branches

by Hilary Russell

Alex Grieve, DC Urban Forestry Arborist in the northeast section of Ward 6, appeared before ANC6C’s Environment, Parks and Events Committee virtual meeting on Tuesday night to answer tree-related questions – coincidentally, just after Monday’s snowstorm.  Grieve assured that DDOT contractors were busy clearing roads and sidewalks impinged by storm-damaged trees.

Grieve’s division, housed within the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT), is the primary steward of some 175,000 public trees that line the city’s streets and sidewalks.  He inspects such areas and encourages emails from interested citizens who would like the Urban Forestry Division to come up with a remedial planting plan.  He can be reached at alexander.grieve@dc.gov and at 202-671-5133, and welcomes communications from Capitol Hill residents on the following topics:

  • Tree boxes: Technically, a permit is required to plant a tree in a tree box – preferably a large tree that contributes to DC’s canopy. Neighbors are required to maintain tree boxes, but without disturbing tree roots or adding plants with thorns or those that grow taller than 18 inches. Call 311 to report a tree box that needs a tree or a tree box that could be enlarged, thereby contributing to less impervious pavement. Installing permeable material over a sidewalk tree’s bulging roots has similar impact, but DDOT’s Sidewalk Division, not Urban Forestry, handles such requests.
  • Watering of public trees: DDOT contractors plant trees and are responsible for watering and maintaining them for at least the first summer, while Casey Trees (the non-profit organization established in 2001 to restore, enhance, and protect the tree canopy of Washington) waters the trees they plant for the first three years. Urban Forestry works to hold their contractors to their warranties and encourages neighbors to water needy trees that are less than three years old. Mature public trees do not need to be watered.
  • Troubled trees. Urban Forestry limits treatments to Gingko trees (to prevent fruit) and to American Elm for Dutch Elm Disease. The division tracks outbreaks of other diseases, such as crepe myrtle bark scale, and can recommend resources, such as the hiring of an arborist or a University of Maryland extension agent. There is a database of trees marked for removal and their level of priority, but it does not include schedules.

The discussion touched on challenges posed by private developers in reaching the 40 percent goal for the city’s tree canopy.  Grieve stated that the laws protecting current and heritage trees are difficult to implement and often the agency can’t protect private trees that obstruct a development plan.  He also acknowledged the challenge of communicating across a department as large and complex as DDOT as well as a tangle of agencies that deal with trees, such as DC’s Department of Energy and the Environment and the National Park Service.

Their website https://ddot-urban-forestry-dcgis.hub.arcgis.com provides more answers to more questions, along with current data on trees and tree-related plans in Ward 6.

Following is a chart showing distribution of current and projected tree plantings by ward in FY 2022.

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