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Carbondale Tree Board: A species unto itself

Locations: News Published

(Editor’s note: This is part of a series on Carbondale’s advisory boards and commissions).

By Lynn Burton
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Read early accounts of life in Carbondale, or look at photos from back then, and at least one feature stands out – trees were few and far between.

“Carbondale was a sage brush plain (in the 1880’s),” Tree Board Chairman Dan Bullock told The Sopris Sun.”

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According to published reports, one of the town folks’ first municipal projects was to plant trees, mostly Siberian elm, on their own property and also town property. The fast-growing tree, introduced to the U.S. by USDA employee Frank Meyer in the early part of the 20th century, quickly took root all around town and started shading homes and streets. After the success of Siberian elm, and watered by the town’s extensive irrigation ditch system, native sagebrush gave way to native tree plantings such as spruce, cottonwood and aspen.

Fast forward to the early 1990s, and Carbondale became a member of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program. One requirement for becoming a Tree City USA member is a town “must delegate tree care decisions to a professional forester, city department, citizen-led tree board or some combination,” according to the group’s website. The site continues: Involving residents and business owners creates wide awareness of what trees do for the community and provides broad support for better tree care.”

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Carbondale retains its designation through the Tree Board and also town arborist/horticulturalist David Coon, who directs hands-on tree management programs and also attends the board’s monthly meetings on the third Thursday of the month.

The Tree Board advises the trustees on various tree issues, reviews development plans, administers the Kay Brunnier Tree Fund, oversees planting on town property and rights-of-way, and more. The board is also charged with “abatement of nuisance trees on public and private property,” according to the town website (

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For the past few months, the board has been discussing the “V-cut elms” in Xcel and Holy Cross Energy easements around town. There are several such distinctively pruned trees in town, including near the intersection of Sopris Avenue and Second Street, and on Fourth Street near Colorado Avenue. The trees are located directly under power lines, which energy companies say are unsafe.

“Trees that grow under the power lines are the greatest threat to reliable electric service,” says the Holy Cross website. We require a minimum of 10 feet of clearance from our facilities.”

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Coon said the V-cut trees issue is “a complex thing.” Cost, public relations and drafting a tree replacement plan are all part of the board’s ongoing discussion on the issue. “There’s a lot to consider,” he said. In any case, V-cut pruning can continue for only so long because it affects the tree’s structure and balance. “There’s the potential for a lot of breakage,” Coon continued. He said he expects the Tree Board to make a recommendation to the trustees in a month or two.

Bullock’s take on trees

Bullock, who lives across the street from Sopris Park and can view some town plantings from his porch, said he has an interest in trees “in a town setting.” He said the urban tree programs are “a long term deal.” He recently talked to a Denver arborist who planted a burr oak 15 years ago, and it will be another 40 years before it reaches “oh, wow” status. Locally, Bullock points to trees planted 20 years ago on Melissa Lane in Hendrick Park, and in Hendrick and Sopris parks that are starting to come of age.

The Kay Brunier Tree Fund is part of the town’s tree planting program. The fund provides 50/50 matching grants to individuals and businesses who wish to sponsor a tree on town property. “There (are) opportunities for trees planted in remembrance of a loved one and also the honoring of a person, family, school graduation or other special event, but anyone can sponsor the planting of a tree,” said the town website. Said Bullock, “We’ve planted more than 80 trees from the fund … that’s amazing for a town the size of Carbondale.”

Bullock said the tree board made a “big difference” in the recent landscaping on Highway 133. One of the board’s guiding principals is to limit any one tree species to 10 percent of the town-owned  urban forest. The main reason for the 10 percent figure is to limit damage due to infestations such as the ash bore. “It (the ash board) hasn’t raised its ugly head here, but it is in Denver and Boulder.”

Bullock said serving on the tree board is a lot of fun. “The board, the town and public works are doing a great job. … We’re really fortunate to have David Coon … he’s considerate and has great tree knowledge.”

One thing Bullock would like to see in the future are “tree walks” in the spring, summer and fall.

There are four other tree board members besides Bullock: Gabe Riley,  Jo Anne Teeple, Kim Bock and Shaun Rourke.

“We can use two more members,” Bullock said. For application details, go to

Published in The Sopris Sun on March 30, 2017. 
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