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Northeast Queens groups work to replace trees lost to storms

While the city has replaced some trees downed by Irene, other remnants of the storm, like this stump along Douglaston Parkway, have not yet been replaced. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

Since September 2010, Queens has been hit by a tornado, a blizzard and a tropical storm — each of which has taken its toll on the borough’s trees, especially in areas such as parks and the leafy neighborhoods in the northeast.

In Little Neck and Douglaston, neighborhoods that are defined by their towering timbers, groups are working to restore their communities’ verdant character.

The city Parks Department estimates that roughly 3,000 street trees have been lost throughout the city in the past 16 months — a mere drop in the bucket compared to the 126,000-plus trees that have been planted in Queens alone under the MillionTreesNYC initiative since it was announced in 2007.

“That doesn’t sound like a big deal at first, but those 3,000 trees are concentrated in specific areas,” said Walter Mugdan, president of the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee.

Mugdan said the majority of trees that have come down in these events are the largest, most prominent ones around — some of them reaching up to 3 feet in diameter.

“These are big, mature trees. There’s a bigger impact when they fall. You really see the void left by the damage,” he said. “They line the streets and therefore have a lot to do with the character of the community.”

Since 2010 Parks has planted 30,000 reforestation trees in natural areas of parks and 5,000 street trees in Queens. The agency counts another 3,700 trees planted since then by its partners.

The department’s replacement efforts have not kept pace with the number of downed trees, Mugdan said.

“Because city Parks and the [city] forest service have been so overwhelmed, they basically let us know that they weren’t going to be able to get to Udalls Cove Park anytime soon,” he said. “We got a permit from the city and hired our own contractor and had him work on several occasions in the fall of 2010 and the fall of 2011.”

Mugdan estimated the committee has spent between $15,000 and $20,000 to remove fallen trees and clear trails. A small portion of that money was spent to plant about six large trees, he said.

These trees count toward the mayor’s 1 million goal, as do those street trees the department plants. Some are planted automatically as Parks cleans up after a storm while others are planted by request.

George Schmidt, of the Douglas Manor Association, said his neighborhood lost around 150 trees last year and that he was in contact with the forestry service about getting trees planted along the waterfront.

“They’re moving and they’re doing things and we’re hoping this next spring we’ll get a lot of trees replaced by the Parks Department,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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