The state Capitol has some of the oldest and most mature trees in the state but they’ve been badly neglected in recent years.
That changed when Buildings and Grounds approved a $58,000 contract with Healthy Trees of Carson City. A crew of four arborists on Friday wrapped up three weeks of pruning, trimming and cleaning up 115 huge trees on the grounds.
The problems, particularly with the American elms surrounding the Capitol, became painfully obvious during the heavy windstorms of January and February that brought a large number of branches to the ground.
John Patterson of Healthy Trees said the issues with those trees “were not so much damage but neglect.”
As a result, the crew took out large piles of dead branches from those trees over the past three weeks.
Tom Henderson, owner of Healthy Trees, said only one large tree had to be removed — a honey locust on the south side of the Capitol outside the Secretary of State’s office.
He said the State Historic Preservation Office ordered large and historic trees not be removed unless there was no other option but in that one case, he said there was no choice.
“More than half way around the waist had open decay,” Henderson said.
The American elms, he said, were planted in 1876, which makes them 141 years old. He said more than 100 saplings were shipped by rail from Illinois to Sacramento then hauled to Carson City when they were probably less than five feet tall.
Now, the remaining 62 elms are all more than 100 feet tall. For most of the pruning, Henderson said his crew had to use a lift or actually climb the trees to cut away dead and damaged branches.
“It’s a cool experience getting to prune 140-year-old trees,” said Patterson.
He said as part of the process, they now have a good inventory of the condition of all 115 trees they worked on so they will know what needs to be done in the future. He and Henderson both said it would be a good idea for the state to “routinely” — every year or two — bring in a crew of professionals to work on the trees and assess their condition.
Patterson said this contract was to deal with the large trees but the state would be wise to bring them back to deal with issues on a number of the smaller trees as well.
Henderson said all his crew members receive training not only in how to take care of the trees but safety since they are often climbing around more than 70 feet above the ground.
“You have to trust your ropes,” he said.
He made it clear they also have to trust each other so a major focus in his company is building a cohesive team who works together to complete tasks and get better. He said that means workers with good people skills.