Hill AFB Tree City USA for 22nd consecutive year

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — For the 22nd year in a row, Hill Air Force Base has been named a Tree City USA for its commitment in keeping the base green with trees.

Hill achieved Tree City USA recognition by meeting the Arbor Day Foundation’s requirements for managing its forest. The Tree City USA program is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters.

The base and other Utah cities and organizations were recognized at a Tree City USA luncheon in Salt Lake City April 15.

“Everyone benefits when elected officials, volunteers and committed citizens in communities like Hill AFB make smart investments in urban forests,” said Matt Harris, chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation in a press release about Hill AFB’s recognition. “Trees bring shade to our homes and beauty to our neighborhoods, along with numerous economic, social and environmental benefits.”

On its 6,600-plus acres, Hill AFB has more than 13,000 trees of more than 100 different species, valued at approximately $17 million. The 75th Civil Engineer Group’s Environmental Branch set up a database several years ago to track and manage the base’s trees. 

“Many of our trees are old, having lined the streets with shade and beauty since World War II,” said Russ Lawrence, the base’s natural resources program manager. “Trees are being monitored for health and usefulness every year.”

According to Hill’s tree database:

• The base’s oldest tree, a 94-year-old Siberian elm, has a diameter of 53 inches and is located on the north side of the base in the Maintenance Activity Management System -II (MAMS II) area.

• The largest-diameter tree — a rare Japanese pagoda, the most valuable tree on Hill at $42,750 — has a diameter of 60 inches and is located north of the parking lot on Sixth Street and Southgate Drive.

• The base’s tallest tree, a boxelder, is 90 feet tall and is also located in the MAMS II area.

• The second tallest tree, a 69-year-old Siberian elm, is 60 feet tall and is located at Third Street and “D” Avenue.

But just having trees is not what earned Hill AFB a Tree City USA designation. One of the standards for becoming a Tree City USA designation is having a community tree ordinance.

If a tree on Hill AFB dies or is diseased or needs to be removed for other reasons, the base’s tree replacement policy requires replacement with the same number of inches of wood as the tree being removed. For example, if the tree is 25 inches in diameter, 25 one-inch saplings would need to planted in its place.

“Replacing large trees can be very expensive and frustrating,” Lawrence said.  “The base works with organizations to purchase young bare-root trees to be planted in pots in the Base Tree Farm.”

Recently, American Water needed to remove a large Box Elder for a pump house. “The base lost a large tree, but American Water purchased 110 trees ranging in size from 15 inches to 4 feet tall that will be planted in pots until they are large enough to be planted around the base,” Lawrence said.  “It is a win-win for both parties because the cost of replacement is substantially less that it would be otherwise and the base gained more trees for beautification.”

The base also gains trees when there is new construction. If a new building goes up on the base, the landscaping around it must also include trees, increasing the base’s overall inventory of trees.

“New building construction also undergoes a rigorous landscape planning review process that allows the right trees to be selected for aesthetics, function, safety of base personnel, and protection of building infrastructure,” Lawrence said. “The danger of attracting birds near an airfield is also taken into consideration. The base engineers are very good about coordinating landscape plans with the Environmental Branch.

In 2013, Hill installed a xeriscape park where a former building once stood. Instead of a weed patch, today there is landscaping with drought-tolerant plants, mulch, efficient irrigation and more than 50 new trees.

Lawrence said water conservation is a continuing concern for the base and its trees.

“Our base planners now look for proper plant materials, including trees, that are better at surviving drought periods,” he said.

Being a Tree City USA fits perfectly with the Air Force’s duty to the stewardship of the environment, Lawrence said.

“Taking care of our trees is part of our mission,” he said.