Treeing an award 

For 16 years in a row, the National Arbor Day Foundation has honored Missoula with a Tree City U.S.A. award. For 11 years, the same organization has awarded the same city its Growth Award.

The Tree City U.S.A. award means Missoula has a nice set of gold leaves along its City Hall wall, but it’s an award really designed for beginners. The Tree City program started in 1976, says coordinator Tina Schweitzer, when “urban forestry was a new thing.” The award exists primarily to encourage cities that are just starting to think about trees, says Tree City coordinator Tina Schweitzer.

Missoula isn’t a beginner, but the city continues to apply for both awards.

“If you can get both of them—why not?” asks Christopher Gray, Missoula’s interim urban forester. Plus, he says, knowing the city wants to apply for both awards “keeps us from slacking.

“The nature of the valley is to not have trees at all,” says Gray. The valley receives about 13 1/2” of rain annually, he says, so whatever types of trees the city does plant will require irrigation at some point.

Gray is proud to have recently planted bur oak in the valley. Bur oak, says Gray, is native to the plains where Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota converge, but it works well in the valley. First of all, it evolved in a windy area, explains Gray, so it won’t blow over. Secondly, its roots have small hairs that reach close to the surface and can absorb even the light rainfall Missoula typically receives.

Right now, the list of the city’s recommended trees includes—at least off the top of his head—maple, ash and linden. These trees are important because their canopies provide shade, says Gray. He’s drafting a list of “water-wise” trees, too, that will include ponderosa and larch—two of his favorites.

Over the last 10 years, the city of Missoula has planted between 100 and 120 trees each year, says Gray.

With a little luck, Gray says he’ll move from the interim position to the permanent position.

“I get to make decisions that will last 100 years,” says Gray.

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