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Cleaning Up Storm-Damaged Trees and Forests Safely

Burlington--Caution is the buzzword as the Northeast cleans up after Super Storm Sandy, especially for homeowners with downed or damaged trees.

"The combination of heavy winds and rains wreaked havoc on many trees and forests," says Kate Forrer of the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program, a joint initiative between University of Vermont Extension and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. "Trees were uprooted, their branches broken, their bark torn and remaining leaves stripped."

"As we've learned from past storms, the trail of damage reveals the destructive power of Mother Nature. Yet, trees are living proof of nature's regenerative ability as they can recover from even the most severe injuries."

For homeowners whose trees were damaged in the recent storm, Forrer recommends following these simple steps when cleaning up.

TAKE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS.

Look up and down. Be on the alert and stay away from downed utility lines and dangerous hanging branches that look like they are ready to fall. Use safety precautions at all times including wearing safety glasses and other protective gear if working outside around storm-damaged trees.

ASSESS THE DAMAGE.

Evaluate your trees carefully by asking the following questions:

--Other than the storm damage, is the tree basically healthy and vigorous?

--Are major limbs or the leader (the main upward-reaching branch on most trees) still remaining?

--Is at least 50 percent of the tree's crown (branches) still intact?

--Are remaining branches in a good place to support the tree in the future?

--Are the roots still in the ground?

If you answered "yes" to the majority of these questions, the tree has a good chance for complete recovery.

PRUNE STORM-DAMAGED LIMBS.

Remove the jagged remains of broken limbs to minimize the risk of decay entering the wound. Resist the urge to over-prune.

"Don't worry if the tree's appearance is not perfect," Forrer says. "With branches gone, your trees may look unbalanced or naked. You will be surprised at how fast they will recover, grow new foliage and return to their natural beauty."

GET PROFESSIONAL ADVICE.

"Leave dangerous work, such as overhead pruning or removing trees, especially large ones, to professionals who are trained in tree care," Forrer advises. "Tree care professionals have achieved a level of knowledge and experience so know the best treatment for your trees, plus they are equipped to do the job safely and are insured."

Woodlot owners concerned about stand damage should seek advice from a professional forester. Clearing access roads and evaluating forest stands containing hanging limbs and bent trees is dangerous work.

Trees with up to 10 percent crown loss can be managed normally. However, each stand is different. Site quality and other factors must be considered in management decisions. Contact a consulting forester or your county forester for more information on managing your woodlot after a storm.

To learn more about tree recovery and find tree care professionals in your area, visit the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation's Storm Damage Center's web site at www.vtfpr.org/protection/StormResources.cfm. The web site includes additional information on hiring a professional, proper care of storm-damaged trees and storm clean up safety.

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