Conservation Commission aims for ‘A Thousand Trees for Trumbull’

TRUMBULL — In Mary Ellen Lemay’s experience, everyone loves trees — until they don’t.

Lemay, chair of the Trumbull Conservation Commission, said the commission has been working on a tree ordinance for more than 10 years, and it’s been a struggle to get anything on the books.

“Every time we come close, we have a major storm and trees come down and people hate trees and don’t want to talk about trees,” she said.

But she, and others in town, are still committed to protecting the town’s trees and replacing those that have been lost to disease, weather or other causes. That’s why they’re launching “A Thousand Trees for Trumbull,” a program that aims to plant 100 new trees a year in town over the next 10 years.

Earlier this year, the group sent a summary of the plan to the Trumbull Town Council, and requested a starting budget of $12,000. The council approved the project and Lemay said the funding would help jump start the program.

The next steps include developing a plan for the best spots to replant trees, and adopting guidelines for which tree species should be planted where, how to maintain them, and how much it will all cost.

“Ideally, we would like to form a Trumbull Forestry sub-committee of the Conservation Commission that would manage the plan for the next five years and manage the tree purchases, inventory, installation and maintenance,” Lemay said.

In addition to the $12,000 that’s been budgeted for the project, Lemay said the commission has also received a private donation from a community non-profit. She said she’s also using money from her recent Aquarion Environmental Champion Award for this initiative.

The summary to the Town Council mentions that “it will take years to replace what we have already lost, but the time to begin should have been a decade ago.”

Lemay’s fellow Conservation Commission member Tim Coughlin echoed that thought.

“We’re losing a lot of trees due to a number of issues,” he said.

That includes various tree-afflicting diseases, such as beech leaf disease, a condition that, according to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, causes “premature leaf drop and thin canopies and also makes trees more susceptible to other pests.”

It was first discovered in Ohio and 2012, and first spotted in Connecticut in 2019.

Storms, drought, and a variety of other factors can also lead to tree loss, Lemay said.

Whatever the reason, she said, there are many areas around town that were once rich with trees where the foliage is now lost. One area she mentioned was just outside Trumbull Center on White Plains Road, where the old Starbucks used to be. She said there was once a row of shade trees in the area, and all that is left of them are stumps.

Lemay and Coughlin both said the loss of trees is unfortunate, because trees serve many purposes.

“There are a million benefits to having a nice tree canopy in town,” Coughlin said. “They make people happy. They can offset carbon emissions.”

They also can be energy savers, Lemay said, as the cover provided by tree canopies can help keep costs down by protecting homes from the sun in the summer and the wind in the winter.

Lemay and others on the conservation commission aren’t alone in thinking that trees are essential. Earlier this year, the Trumbull Conservation Commission and Sustainable Trumbull conducted a survey of residents that asked how they felt on a variety of Trumbull-centric environmental and sustainability issues.

One of the questions was “What do you see as top environmental priorities for Trumbull?” Respondents were allowed to pick up to three options and the top response was “Maintaining the trees and green spaces around town.” Conservation commissioner Sara Sterling said 72 percent of the 435 people who answered the survey picked this response.

In addition, Sterling said “nearly half of respondents said they were concerned about the cutting of trees on town property or clear cutting of trees on private property — these were separate answer options that each got about 45 percent of responses.”

In addition to the tree-planting effort, Lemay said, the commission is interested in other tree-forward initiatives, including the possibility of finally getting a tree ordinance. She said the town only has an article that covers trees in the town code, established in 1962.

“It isn’t a document that talks about the protection or preservation of trees,” Lemay said.

She said the commission is working with the state forester to update a document the commission wrote in 2016.

“A dedicated group of volunteers worked for over five years drafting the new tree management plan and we would like to have it codified into an ordinance that works in 2022, not 1962,” she said.