Going out on a ‘limb’ for public safety in Huntsville

single-meta-cal September 9, 2022

Part of what makes Huntsville such a beautiful city is the number of trees lining sidewalks and greenways, shading homes and parks in residential neighborhoods and providing a lush canopy over trails and other wooded areas. Basically, we love our trees!

A large limb lays across a power line in winter.

Weak branches and limbs are no match for winter snow and ice.

But as with every living thing, trees have natural life cycles that can be interrupted by disease, pests, lightning, drought and other weather phenomena, and old age. When a tree on City property or public right-of-way appears likely to become hazardous to the public, the City calls on its resident arborist, Marc Byers.

Rooted in public safety

“Our goal is not to remove trees; our goal is to preserve trees while protecting public safety,” Byers said. “The vast majority of the trees we remove are for safety-related reasons.”

Byers explained that several steps happen before a tree is ultimately removed.

First, the City of Huntsville’s Urban Forestry & Horticulture Division works in cooperation with Huntsville Utilities to determine whether a tree falls under the purview of the City or the utility company for line clearance.

“I protect the public from dangerous trees, and I protect trees from the public.” – City Arborist Marc Byers

A crew trims a tree in a Huntsville cemetery.

Inspections of the City’s oldest trees and regular trimming is important for maintaining public safety.

If a tree in question is under the City’s jurisdiction, Byers’ team uses up to four levels of evaluation recommended by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to determine the likelihood of failure for that tree. The evaluation also outlines the severity of possible consequences that could result from the tree’s failure, such as destruction of property or injury from a fallen limb.

“Every tree is different,” Byers said of the evaluation process, noting that public safety is his top priority.

If someone wants the City to remove a tree in the public right-of-way, they must go through his office to acquire a tree removal permit.

“You could say my job is two-pronged,” he continued. “I protect the public from dangerous trees, and I protect trees from the public.”

Cultivating a greener future

Huntsville loves its trees, and citizens can be quite passionate about neighborhood foliage. Sometimes this passion skews public perception about Landscape Management’s tree management, tree ordinance and Tree Commission. Byers noted that his team spends about 90% of its time on storm cleanup, trimming, protecting and planting trees around the City, while they only spend about 10% of their time on tree removal.

Mayor Tommy Battle and Landscape Management team plant a tree.

Landscape Management staff and Mayor Tommy Battle plant trees annually in October.

In fact, the City takes advantage of favorable conditions in fall to plant hundreds of trees in public spaces. The City has planted approximately 3,000 trees since 2020, and this year alone will see another 2,000 planted thanks to a grant from Keep America Beautiful.

You can report trees you suspect might be problematic for public safety by using the SeeClickFix app or going to Huntsville Connect.