Trees play a vital role in creating healthier, safer, and more connected communities. They provide clean air, water, wildlife habitat, promote psychological-well being, and offset climate change affects by slowing storm surge and flooding and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Dane County Parks has initiatives to maintain the health of existing trees, plant additional trees county lands (many with the help of volunteers and partner groups), and inspire youth to celebrate trees. Some county properties have active restoration Projects and/or detailed Vegetation and Restoration Management Plans.
Traditionally, the limiting factor for tree planting has been the number of tree seedlings that can be watered and maintained until they are large enough to plant. To increase the number of trees grown and also decrease costs, the county created a gravel bed tree nursery program in 2012. The gravel bed allows the trees to grow an extensive root structure in a very short amount of time so that they are ready to be planted sooner.
The gravel bed program has reduce planting costs dramatically. A ball and burlap tree costs around $200, whereas bare root trees grown in the gravel bed normally costs between $20-40 to grow. The county receives tree donations from DNR, Rock River Coalition, and Sustainable Wildlife, a local nursery, which further reduced our costs down to around $2 per tree. The bare root trees are also much lighter and easier to transport and plant.
The gravel bed supports 2,000 to 4,000 trees per year depending on the size and species. We have been able to plant around 10 times as many trees using the gravel bed as we would have using traditional methods.
Oak trees are the backbone of our savanna and woodland communities. They support many species of wildlife, including over 800 species of caterpillar and all the birds and wildlife that feed on them. They are important for water infiltration and sequester carbon. Oak savanna was once one of the most common vegetation types in the Upper Midwest but today is highly endangered with only a fraction of one percent remaining. Intact oak savannas are now one of the rarest natural communities on earth.
Unlike many other native tree species, oak seedlings need plenty of sunlight to survive and grow so they are quickly crowed out by fast growing invasive species. Staff and volunteers are working at several properties to remove invasive species and restore oak savanna and oak woodland ecosystems. Staff also run a treatment program to protect large Bur Oak trees from oak blight and oak wilt.
Dane County Parks conducts sustainable timber harvests to improve wildlife habitat, achieve restoration goals, and provide a source of revenue for future management of park lands. Harvests have occurred on several properties including Indian Lake County Park, Mud Lake Wildlife Area, Scheidegger Forest, Silverwood County Park, and Walking Iron County Park. This initiative will continue and is done in consultation with professional foresters and other natural resource managers. Per the recommendations in the Dane County Parks & Open Space Plan, the timber harvests will be conducted to maximize the health of the forest.
Large mature trees provide a far greater range of ecological benefits than newly planted trees. Therefore, an objective of Dane County’s forestry program is, wherever feasible, to retain and support mature trees through a number of tree preservation initiatives.
Tree Risk Assessment and Mitigation: One of the primary objectives of a forestry program is risk mitigation. Hazard is something that can cause harm e.g. a storm damaged tree, a dead ash tree. Risk is the chance high or low, that any hazard will cause harm. The higher the trafficked area, the greater the risk for conflict from potential hazards. County staff perform Tree Risk Assessments on lower condition-rated trees near higher use areas, such as play grounds, campgrounds, shelters, parking lots, seating and interpretive sign areas. The goal is to balance the added benefits of larger mature trees with potential liability from hazardous conditions they can sometimes pose.
Disease and Pest Management: There are a number of diseases and pests that affect trees in Dane County. Some of the most concerning on county properties include diseases such as Oak Wilt, Bur Oak Blight, Dutch Elm Disease, and Verticillium Wilt and pests such as Spongy Moth, Emerald Ash Borer, Bronze Birch Borer, and various bark beetles. As mature trees are affected, staff use Integrated Pest Management Techniques to determine appropriate methods to minimize the damage done to trees and promote their continued vitality. Staff also monitor for new out breaks and model potential risks within our tree inventory for new diseases and pests on the horizon.
Tree Pruning: Proper tree pruning is integral to tree health and longevity. Pruning improves structure, road and walking clearance, disease and pest resistance and it also reduces the likelihood of and minimizes the amount of damage from storm events. Proper structure leads to longer-lived healthier trees.
Our forestry staff partner with the Henry Vilas zoo once per year and adaptive climbing events so youth of all abilities can learn about and climb trees. They also participate in a Dream Night program for terminally and critically ill children and their families that gives them a fun outdoor experience and a day away from the hospital.