Pennsylvania community gives its ailing trees a boost

Don Wary doesn't crack a smile as he tours the tidy, tree-lined streets of Warren, Pa. ``This is the kind of problem we are running into,'' he says, peering up at a large sugar maple. Mr. Wary, a state forester, points out bare branches and a decaying trunk. The tree is slowly dying, he says, as are hundreds of others here.

For a long time this northwest Pennsylvania borough, a popular tourist destination, has neglected its trees. But now that is changing.

``It was a grass-roots interest,'' says Michael Reinke, assistant to the director of Warren's public works department.

Since the spring, the community has formed a street landscape committee, recruited volunteers to survey the location and condition of all its trees, and enrolled in a cooperative program to replace its huge trees, which are showing signs of decline.

The turnaround began two years ago, when the Pennsylvania Electric Company asked to replace a stand of old Norway maple trees with newer, smaller varieties that wouldn't foul electric lines. Warren didn't want to change the look of its scenic avenue along the Allegheny River locations. Angry citizens overflowed a town meeting. Someone took down the utility's ribbons, which had been used to tag the maples, and tied them around electric poles instead. ``There was just a huge outcry,'' recalls Mayor Susan McConnell.

But gradually, Warren officials realized that the trees needed help, and they moved to address the issue.

When completed, Warren's tree survey should give local officials an exact idea of what needs to be replaced. The new street landscape committee is writing an ordinance to clarify who's responsible for tree planting and care. Next spring, Warren should receive 50 trees under a cooperative program of the state, Penn State, and several utility companies.

Has all this activity convinced Warren citizens to take better care of their trees? One positive sign is the response to a letter that Pennsylvania Electric sent to 54 Warren homeowners this summer, asking them to water the new trees the utility had planted.

``We haven't lost one tree,'' says the utility's forester, Mike Jones. ``I truly believe the community is more aware of the trees in their town.'

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