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Opinion: The DOT must bring more love to trees

Diane Hoffman and Melinda Tuhus are members of the Hamden Alliance for Trees. This op-ed originally appeared on CTViewpoints.org.

The CT DOT is continuing to take down trees along our highways, and in the words of their spokesman, “We can’t cut them fast enough.” The department says there are 60,000 dead or dying trees that are a public hazard and must be removed at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, according to a recent article in the Courant. The DOT also says it must cut all trees – even healthy ones – back 30 feet from abutting travel lanes. And when the median is less than 60 feet wide, that means clear-cutting everything.

The Hamden Alliance for Trees fully supports removing dead and diseased trees, but healthy trees must be retained, as every healthy tree is an asset that provides essential benefit to the citizens of Connecticut every day including: creating oxygen required by all life, cleaning our air, sequestering carbon dioxide, mitigating  flooding and soil erosion, and providing habitat for wildlife including birds and pollinators.

In addition to all of the benefits mentioned above, trees along our highways are effective shields of sun glare and mask the major distraction of cars traveling in the opposite direction.  Trees create a natural safety barrier when drivers lose control of their vehicles and their cars cross the median threatening cars on the opposite side of the highway. Trees also help to keep our highways beautiful and have a calming effect that helps to reduce anxiety, road rage and pressure when people are driving in heavy traffic.  The huge financial payback of these services must also be figured into the calculation of why we must be saving our healthy trees.

The DOT says it created new guidelines last year, however the DOT did not have the most recent information on the state of our global ecosystem which we have learned from the most recent UN reports on climate change and species extinction. This new critical information must now be factored into all planning by the DOT. Failure to do so would be a willful act of negligence by the taxpayer-funded department which claims that safety is a primary concern.

Hamden State Representative Michael D’Agostino introduced a new bill this session that would allow for much needed oversight, accountability and transparency of the Department of Transportation to ensure that our tax dollars and critical natural resources are being protected and responsibly used to help make our state more resilient in this age of increasing extreme weather as a result of climate change. This bill, HB5308, passed the House and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.  Connecticut needs this law.  These responsible and appropriate guidelines should have been written and put in place decades ago.

The extreme weather we have recently experienced has had a catastrophic impact on our state, and we cannot ignore the massive economic, environmental, and human costs. The 2018 release of the United Nations report on Climate Change makes it abundantly clear that the climate crisis, which is exacerbating this weather, threatens the safety of all life on earth as we know it.  The more trees we remove from our environment, the more extreme this weather will become and the more severe the impact.

Trees are nature’s “Carbon Sinks,” nature’s way of sequestering carbon dioxide through trees leaves, bark, and roots. Planting and protecting our healthy trees is essential to reducing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. We must re-evaluate our relationship with our trees and recognize their critical role on earth as our best natural ally in the fight against climate change. Removing trees must cease to be the go-to solution when considering safety issues.  Removing trees must become the last option considered as it further weakens our basic ecosystem, the most basic safety factor there is!

HB5308 will help the DOT become a more responsible, transparent and accountable department. It will put the DOT on a more environmentally sound path to help Connecticut become a more resilient state working in the best interests of Connecticut residents.
We must recognize that our trees are a long-term investment in the future of our children and now, more than ever before, we cannot afford to waste money on irresponsible decisions.

2 comments

Joe June 2, 2019 at 9:44 pm

We drive I-85 from beginning to end through five states.

This highway is lined with the biggest trees you’ve ever seen.

But these states have the common sense to keep the trees far enough from the roadway that there is no way a branch can endanger drivers. While our CT-DOT are still planting trees in the middle! How stupid is that.

Ms. Obuchowski presents an excellent idea to line our highways with beautiful flowering shrubs that only our superb Connecticut climate can afford. Our climate gives us one of the largest variety of fauna in the whole nation.

That’s why the rich people like to live here … if we didn’t try to eat them all the time.

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