Official aims to continually restore tree canopy

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 6, 2021

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MADISON HEIGHTS — The city of Madison Heights was recently recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation for its canopy restoration efforts, earning it the status of “Tree City USA.” But its efforts are far from over when it comes to replacing trees lost to construction and other causes.

“The city of Madison Heights is now focused on preserving and restoring our tree canopy,” Emily Rohrbach, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, said in an email. “The city is lucky to have a plethora of beautiful trees, but we know that many of the 50-plus-year-old silver maples that were planted when the city was first established are nearing the end of their healthy lives. Many other trees were lost over the past several decades due to disease, pests and road construction.”

She said the city’s latest efforts will tackle these issues in several ways.

First, the city will continue to budget to replace trees that are impacted by new road and water main construction.

Second, trees that were lost to roadwork before the city started budgeting for replacements are planned for priority replacement through grants like the one the city received from the nonprofit group ReLeaf Michigan in 2020, as well as the grant received this year from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and ongoing contributions from local marijuana companies who have pledged a certain amount each year to aid in plantings. And third, the Madison Heights Environmental Citizens Committee is working on several initiatives to encourage the planting of more trees, in particular native trees and plants around the city. At press time in late March, Rohrbach said the plan was to plant around 75 trees in a six-block area on the south end of the city sometime in April.

“This long-term investment in our neighborhoods will change the character of a neighborhood that was previously bare of most street trees to one that will have a fantastic diversity of tree species that are well-suited to the environment of the neighborhood,” Rohrbach said. “I look forward to continuing this systematic plan of planting trees in as many neighborhoods as possible, seeking funding from outside organizations to achieve our goal of making Madison Heights greener and more inviting for residents.”

Rohrbach also serves as a volunteer on the board of directors for ReLeaf Michigan and was recently appointed to the Clinton River Watershed Council’s board of directors.

“Both of these organizations are working on environmental advocacy and using trees to improve air and water quality for our Michigan communities,” Rohrbach said. “I’ve learned so much from these organizations about how planting and maintaining our urban tree canopy positively impacts people in our city, from reduced rates of crime to cleaner air and water, reduced stormwater runoff, improved property values, and more usable outdoor spaces. I am encouraged by the positive feedback I’ve received from residents about our tree planting efforts, and I look forward to continuing to build a better, greener future for our city.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, recounted some recent tree planting efforts.

“After revitalizing the Environmental Citizens Committee a few years ago, one of the first areas we addressed was identifying where in the city was in most need of trees and how we could secure funding for this program,” Grafstein said in an email. “Last year, we were able to leverage minimal investment from the city to plant over 100 trees, and we continue to look for new partners who want to help with this initiative. As we have more construction in the city, I would like to see multiple replacement trees planted for every one removed. The (Madison Heights) Men’s Club helped with the June 2020 tree planting, and in 2016 they planted several donated trees at Gravel Park.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Robert Corbett said the city will steadily work on the issue.

“The nice thing about restoring the tree canopy to the city is that it can be treated as a long-term project with money set aside each year for planting trees,” he said in an email. “Over the years, development, disease and roadwork have eroded our tree inventory significantly. In recent years, the council has begun to aggressively support reforestation of our parks, neighborhoods and public lands. I think the best approach for council is to adopt a long-term strategy of perennially allocating money on an ongoing basis to ensure that the stock of trees increases, and any losses are replaced.”

Madison Heights City Councilman Mark Bliss said in an email that the city has come a long way since he and former Mayor Brian Hartwell outlined a plan to replace trees taken down by construction and other causes. He said the canopy restoration efforts are also in keeping with the “555 Plan” he unveiled with Rohrbach, which set a goal of 250 trees planted in five years.

“We’re now adding trees at a fairly rapid pace, and are doing so with quite a lot of grant money and private donations helping to make our tax dollars go further,” Bliss said. “Despite the pandemic, our city staff and outstanding Environmental Citizens Committee volunteers have put us on track to clear that goal one to two years early. It’s an incredible change in such a short time, and I’m so thankful to everyone who worked to make it happen.”

Madison Heights City Manager Melissa Marsh said she appreciates the recognition the city received from the Arbor Day Foundation for its efforts.

“I am very excited that the city has been awarded Tree City in 2020,” Marsh said in an email. “For me, this award is about community pride, and the recognition of the many benefits trees bring to our community. As a community, we have acknowledged the benefit our residents receive daily from cleaner air, shadier streets, and the beauty of healthy, well-managed urban forests.”