Twenty days before Sasha Blair-Goldensohn was struck by a falling tree limb in Central Park, an arborist with the Central Park Conservancy sent an email to parks officials about a dead 15-foot limb hanging across the entrance at 63rd Street. A follow-up email by a park supervisor asked the next day, "Did the tree crew get this?" The response: "Yes, the tree crew got it." But "it" turned out to be the email itself, and the branch that severely injured Blair-Goldensohn, a father of two, was never removed.
The Times has a thorough report on the city's inadequate system of monitoring sick or decaying trees, and at the root of the slow response times and inadequate training for park employees seems to be a shrinking budget.
No one argues that trees in remote park areas need to be inspected regularly. But tree-care experts say that a science has evolved in recent years in the “risk management” of trees in high-traffic urban areas like walkways.
New York has not kept up. Parks employees are required to inspect trees in as many as 25 busy parks every two weeks, and the inspections are hardly thorough. Workers without special training look for dead limbs and other obvious risks as part of a 16-point inspection program that also requires them to evaluate play equipment, benches and fences; make sure animal waste and condoms are discarded; and check lawns and ornamental plantings. The parks department’s forestry division often sends trained arborists only after problems have been noted by the untrained employees.
Trees on city streets get pruning about every 15 years instead of every seven years, which was the practice only a few years ago, said the department’s deputy commissioner, Liam Kavanagh. The budget to trim them has dropped to $1.45 million from $4.7 million in the last five years.
Blair-Goldensohn and his family are suing the city for $120 million, and the case is still pending. Most recently, a 6-month-old baby was killed by a falling limb in 2010 while her father was snapping a picture.