NEW YORK — The City of New York is trying to count its trees before they are all gone. Several incidents of "arborcide" this year have spurred on hundreds of volunteers and Parks Department workers to start walking the city's 33,278 blocks, clipboards in hand, to find out exactly how many trees do grow in Brooklyn and the other four boroughs.
Police last month arrested a contractor hired to cut down three trees that obstructed a corporate sign on the front of a gym, and a reward of $2,500 was offered for the "murder" of seven other London plane trees. The Parks Department calls a man who they claim chopped down 42 trees to get a better view "The Butcher of Bay Ridge" and wants him to pay $32,000 to replace the big, old trees with 92 new ones.
"It's definitely arborcide in the first degree, but I think technically it's vandalism," says Parks Department spokesman Parke Spencer.
Census takers will note the size, species, and health of the trees. The information will be "put into a huge tree management data base" to be used to help pruners, removers, and planters, Mr. Spencer says. They expect to find 500,000 to 700,000 trees along city sidewalks, about half of them in Queens. An estimated 2 million more are in city parks.
Census co-coordinator Tricia Lindemann estimates the project will take a couple of months. "We're only limited by the onset of cold weather and leaves falling," she says. "It's very difficult to identify a tree without leaves."
In a city with little greenery, trees are a precious commodity, and their destruction has been known to cause neighborhood commotion. But because of a reduced street tree budget - $3 million compared with $5.5 million in 1991 - residents usually have a two-year wait to have a new tree planted and a one-year wait to have a dead one removed.
With a permit, residents are allowed to plant their own trees along the sidewalks provided the trunk is at least two-and-a-half inches across and not one of the species banned for being too messy (mulberry), buckling sidewalks (Silver Maple), having deep, tenacious roots (Willow); having dangerous fruit (Osage-Orange); or being invasive and smelly (Tree of Heaven). The most popular trees for new planting are the Callery Pear and the Honey Locust.
A tree with a normal life span of 10 to 12 years has an average life of only seven years in Manhattan, says Joe Bernardo of Trees New York, a non-profit group that trains pruners.
Spencer, of the Parks Department, says the new data base will show which trees are more likely to survive.