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Posted on: April 7, 2021

New language to be added to City Code to protect health of urban forest

Language added to City Code to protect health of urban forest

SPEARFISH, SD – New language may soon be added to Spearfish City Code to help protect the health of the urban forest.

“Residents and visitors enjoy our urban forest, which adds to the beauty, health, and vitality of our ecosystem and community, and we want to have plans in place to protect trees in Spearfish from threats of disease and invasive species,” Parks and Recreation Director Tyler Ehnes said. “Our recently-introduced Memorial Tree Program helps us to plant more diverse species to safeguard the health of the urban forest into the future, and the proposed ordinance will help us to protect the health of the existing trees and protect citizens from the dangers of hazardous trees.”

The Spearfish City Council Monday approved the first reading of Ordinance 1343, which:

  • refines what constitutes a nuisance tree, to include signs/symptoms of emerald ash borer (EAB) and other wilt diseases;
  • makes the process of investigating/abating nuisance trees more consistent with current code enforcement procedures;
  • creates a form to provide better evidence/standing in addressing nuisance trees on private property;
  • gives authority, in emergencies, to a forthcoming Wilt Disease and Invasive Species Response Plan;
  • and creates a hazardous tree emergency for when EAB or other tree infections occur.

This updated ordinance is in response to the Emerald Ash Borer Action Plan adopted by the Spearfish City Council in 2020, Ehnes explained.

“Other communities dealing with EAB have very similar ordinance, and rather than waiting for EAB to arrive, City officials want to be proactive in protecting our urban forest,” he said.

The proposed ordinance language declares “dead, dying, decayed, and defective trees or other wood plants that create a public safety hazard or harbor pests and/or infections harmful to other vegetation” on private property as a public nuisance. In addition, “any tree displaying signs of an Emerald Ash Borer presence, Dutch Elm Disease, Chestnut Blight, Oak Wilt, or any other wilt disease or invasive species presence” are declared a public nuisance.

The proposed ordinance outlines that the City has the right to inspect and remove the nuisance and would notify the property owner/proper representative of and need to abate the nuisance within a specified timeframe. Included with the notification would be a Nuisance Tree Determination Form explaining how a tree is noncompliant, as defined by the ordinance.

If the nuisance is not abated by the deadline, the City may take care of the issue and charge the property owner.

Any tree/woody plant posing an immediate threat to human life or safety may be immediately removed by the City.

With the threat of EAB, the ordinance also directs the City to establish and maintain an administrative policy to outline how the city will address and regulate the storage of wood, removal of trees, etc., during an outbreak of a disease or invasive species, to be called the City of Spearfish Wilt Disease and Invasive Species Response Plan. The ordinance also provides authority for the Mayor and City Council to declare a hazardous tree emergency when evidence confirms the presence of disease or invasive species. During a declared emergency, the City’s Wilt Disease and Invasive Species Response Plan would guide the City’s efforts regarding tree maintenance, removal, and storage of wood. During declared emergencies, City staff would also have the authority to close any park, street, sidewalk, or portions thereof to public use, if necessary, for public safety and the efficient removal and maintenance of impacted trees, as well as enter private property to remove any infected wood or trees.

If the second reading is approved April 19, the ordinance would become effective May 14.

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