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Our View: For the love of Southwest trees

Trees aren’t as nurtured as much as they once were. They’re even disappearing and inadvertently losing some popularity as we move away from that water-sucking monocrop, formerly called a lawn, toward drought friendly, water-minimal xeriscapes.

Trees have lost their place among our priorities.

We’re fine reducing water use. But there’s a cost to our stately trees, which benefit from water seeping below grass, into the earth, quenching the thirst of far-reaching roots.

Our forests are stressed, too, with drought, beetle infestation, impacts from disease and wildfires with high elevation forests now more at risk for upslope advances.

Thankfully, in Mancos, trees will soon get more attention.

As reported in The Journal and The Durango Herald, Mancos received a $1,000 grant from the Colorado Tree Coalition for the 2023 Community Forestry Program. The project will update its tree inventory, with data uploaded to www.cotreeview.com, for urban and community trees. The town last updated its tree inventory in 2007.

What great news for trees! For us, too. “The historical and new data will help guide us as a community to make smart decisions about what trees we plant in the future,” Town Administrator Heather Alvarez said in a news release.

We’re happy to hear Mancos is prioritizing its trees and curious what will make the shortlist.

By deadline, we weren’t able to confirm the size of the area, where trees will be inventoried and mapped. Within Mancos city limits or farther outside as well? To protect our trees, this is what it will take – knowing what’s out there and planting one tree at a time, to regenerate our urban and community canopies.

Back in the day, planting trees was something townsfolk did when they settled into a place. Look at those mature grand dames throughout the Southwest. Climbing them was akin to retro playground equipment, with little feet wrapping and gripping trucks, and little hands reaching for branches. Once settled onto branches, we played in this wonderland and coaxed friends to join us, overlooking the rest of the world. Or at least, the neighborhood.

Sometimes, we got stuck too high off the ground, then parents were called in to talk us down. Eventually, we settled at the base, leaning into trunks to eat our lunch and, sometimes, nap in the shade in the heat of summer afternoons.

Those days, sap on pants and broken limbs from falling were more common occurrences.

Time spent in trees demystified them. Forests have always been a motif in children’s fairy tales and literature, both traditional and modern. Forests represent mystery, being lost, potential danger and other worldliness. Consider the untamed Forbidden Forest in “Harry Potter” books; the Hundred Acred Wood in “Winnie-the-Pooh” stories; forests in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the dark woods in “Dante’s Inferno.” We could go on.

Places for exploration, we sometimes over-love our forests. Community forest management places forest users into roles, merging conservation with economic development and natural resource agendas.

This gives us hope. Forest ecologies are resilient, and while conditions may not return exactly to the way things were, trees adapt and change. Look at Wolf Creek Pass, devastated by the spruce bark beetle outbreak in the early 2000s. But in years since, new species have taken hold and taken off with understory regeneration.

We’re excited to see how Mancos, designated a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation, will grow from the CTC grant. We’d love to see other Southwest communities receive these grants. First, though, we have to prioritize trees, even if it’s just one at time.

In Durango, Peter Schertz is a tree enthusiast and began planting trees at schools, including Hot Wings Maple, Accolade Elm and Bristlecone Pine. Schertz first became involved at the school his children attended, Needham Elementary School. He said a fond memory was when schoolchildren wrote messages to the trees and dropped them in the dirt before the tree was placed into the hole. “Grow big and strong,” and “I love you,” were a couple of the good wishes.

Trees will stay on our minds as we gear up for National Arbor Day on April 28. We’ll plant, donate and reflect on all that trees give us. And why it’s important, now more than ever, to give them our attention. Maybe even a hug.

The first snow of the season covers the ground under Aspen trees in the Southwest.