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‘We will find a way’: Salt Lake launches effort to replant tree casualties from windstorm

SHARE ‘We will find a way’: Salt Lake launches effort to replant tree casualties from windstorm
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Tony Gliot, director of the Salt Lake City Urban Forestry Division, leaves the podium after discussing a new effort to replant trees throughout the city that were lost in a Sept. 8 windstorm during a press conference at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — About two weeks after a generational storm with hurricane-force winds ripped an estimated 1,500 trees out of Salt Lake City’s public spaces — many 60- to 100-year-old giants — an effort has begun to replant.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Thursday joined city forestry officials, the nonprofit TreeUtah and Rocky Mountain Power to announce a donation and volunteer effort to replace what is now a Salt Lake City tree graveyard.

“As a certified tree lover, this has been difficult, especially since we know the benefits that trees and tree canopies provide residents, including reducing air pollution, conserving water and increasing walkability,” Mendenhall said in a news conference at the International Peace Gardens on Thursday. “Trees are indispensable. But luckily, they aren’t completely irreplaceable; we’re going to do our best to regrow what was lost and more.”

The storm hit Salt Lake City parks especially hard. Liberty Park lost 69 trees, and the Salt Lake City Cemetery lost 255, according to city officials.

Mendenhall stood in front of a toppled Colorado spruce, estimated to be 50 to 60 years old, its roots yanked from the dirt and its trunk split in half, one of the thousands of tree casualties to the Sept. 8 storm.

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announces a new effort to replant trees throughout the city that were lost in a Sept. 8 windstorm during a press conference at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Mendenhall called the destruction left behind “devastating,” and the sight of 100-foot trees, in some cases 100-year-old trees, lying on their sides “heartbreaking.”

But the mayor, TreeUtah Executive Director Amy May and Rocky Mountain Power officials painted a picture of hope and a green future for Salt Lake City’s urban forest as they kicked off an effort to raise donations to replace the fallen trees.

Rocky Mountain Power committed to matching the first $10,000 raised. TreeUtah partnered with Salt Lake City to launch the effort ReTree SLC, starting a website, retreeslc.com, to collect donations. The initiative also includes a solicitation for volunteers to help plant trees, with a list of volunteer events available at www.treeutah.org/events.

“Following the storm ... we were all discouraged to see the level of damage throughout the city,” Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Spencer Hall said. “That’s why we were so excited to partner with TreeUtah and Salt Lake City to be able to start replanting. ... We’re really looking forward to starting this next generation of urban forestry and build the kind of trees that will be here for our children and our grandchildren.”

As Salt Lake City officials are still evaluating how many federal emergency dollars will help reimburse some of the costs of tree replacement, they kickstarted the fundraising effort to get a head start on the massive and expensive undertaking. The city’s insurance will not cover the cost of replacing city-owned trees, according to city officials.

Mendenhall said trees are estimated to cost about $200 each, and labor can cost about $100 to replant on average. The partnership with TreeUtah is expected to bring that cost down, the mayor said, but it’s still estimated it will cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to replace the 1,500 public trees.

People can make single donations or sign up for an ongoing monthly contribution, and they can specify that their donation go toward replanting in Liberty Park, the Salt Lake City Cemetery, the Jordan River Park/International Peace Gardens, Rosewood Park or wherever a tree is needed most, according to city officials.  

Mendenhall, who made a campaign promise to plant more than 1,000 new trees annually on Salt Lake City’s west side, said she’s intent on keeping that promise, despite “this tremendous setback.”

“We will find a way,” she said. “We will find a way no matter what the circumstances are. Salt Lake City will see a growing urban forest for the first time in well over a decade.”

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, left, Rocky Mountain Power’s spokesperson Spencer Hall and TreeUtah Executive Director Amy May chat after a press conference at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, announcing a new effort to replant trees throughout the city that were lost in a Sept. 8 windstorm.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News