NW Corner happy Senate passed tree-cutting bill [Rep-Am]

April 23, 2022

From the Republican-American:


Bruce Bennett of Cornwall said he was “ecstatic” when he heard the grassroots effort to demand greater transparency from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for dealing with hazardous tree removal at state parks helped spur the state Senate last week to pass legislation regulating similar projects in the future.


Bennett, a member of Housatonic Meadows Preservation Action, credited Housatonic River Commission, Housatonic Valley Association, Trout Unlimited and Sharon Audubon, as well as many individuals, for the successful push.


The bill next will go to the House.


The impetus for the legislation was the cutting last fall of more than 100 oak and pine trees DEEP deemed hazardous at Housatonic Meadows State Park off Route 4, adjacent to the Cornwall line and on the banks of the Housatonic River. Community members driving past the park spotted the huge pile of downed trees and began a campaign to halt the measure. No advanced warning was given to the public and DEEP Deputy Commissioner Mason Trumble later apologized for the lack of communication.


HMPA quickly formed and its members held protests at the site.


Among the bill’s requirements are an independent arborist must be consulted and signs must be posted on trees before they are removed. There also will be avenues to pursue by those who object to a tree-removal project.


Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, and Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, got involved after the protests in Sharon and vowed to introduce legislation.


“When you take 120 trees out of a small parcel of property, it is significant,” Miner said. “You must have a plan and you must let the public know what that plan is, while remaining open to stakeholder and expert input. In this case, this measure is a first step to showing the people of Litchfield County their voices were heard. It is also the best balance between transparency with DEEP’s activities and safety at our state parks.”


Harding said, “This is a positive first step in addressing the wrongs that occurred at Housatonic Meadows State Park this past fall,” adding he looks forward to championing the bill’s passage in the House.


But Will Healey, DEEP’s director of communications, said in a statement, “DEEP has serious concerns about the unintended consequences of this bill on public safety, park accessibility and agency resources, if enacted. This bill would require DEEP to employ the services of a third-party arborist for any hazard tree project involving the proposed removal of more than five trees per acre in any of the 110 state parks and 14 campgrounds DEEP oversees. This bill also requires DEEP to replant all trees removed, whether ecologically advisable or not. All of this costly and time-consuming work is required to be completed by the agency within DEEP’s available resources. No additional funding is being considered as a part of this bill. This is not feasible for several reasons.”


He listed those reasons as increased risk for park visitors, extended park closures, disruption of routine maintenance, prolonging hazards to the public, impact on park accessibility to the public, and impact on state and taxpayer resources.


“While DEEP appreciates the intent of the legislation to improve transparency and establish standards for the removal of hazard trees, the unintended consequences and practical implications of this bill are serious and not feasible.” Healey stated.


Bennett said the action groups’ input was key to some of the wording of the bill, such as “physical changes to the layout of the park may alter the classification of a hazardous tree.”


“This would have saved all of the oaks along the river by simply moving the picnic areas,” he said.
Bennett also noted the bill states the age and history of a tree should be considered to determine if it has social or scenic value, and any tree removed should be replaced with one of similar species.


Michael Nadeau of Sharon, a retired arborist, said, “We are hoping the passage of the bill will … provide the needed impetus to bring (DEEP’s) hazardous tree practices into compliance with nationally recognized standards.”