Jerry Stallsmith has the closest thing there is to a marquee job in the City of Trees.
As city forester for Boise, it's Stallsmith's job to make sure the city continues to do justice to its nickname, now and in the future. For nearly 36 years, Stallsmith has been caring for Boise's trees, moving from seasonal pruner to city forester during his decades-long career. At the end of June, he will hang up his pruning shears for the last time when he retires, but not before telling BW what it's like to keep the city in the green—especially with Arbor Day coming up on Friday.
What are your areas of responsibility as city forester?
I'm responsible for all the trees that sit on public property, and that includes all the trees in the parks, along the Greenbelt on the river, along all the streets in Boise—41,000 trees.
That's a lot of pruning to do, especially in a place known as the City of Trees. Does that phrase add any more stress on the job?
Yeah ... We want to keep it the City of Trees. We want to make sure we're planting trees back when we take them out and plant additional trees. We have a good management plan here for our forestry.
What's the most common thing you're doing?
We do a lot of pruning for hazard mitigation, mainly for trees on right-of-ways or parks, that have large dead limbs. We try to keep them safe so nobody gets hurt from that. Last year, we pruned just under 3,000 trees and planted just over 1,000 trees.
What would you say is the biggest issue facing Boise in terms of maintaining its trees?
Making sure that we keep the funding for our programs, and we can expand on those programs as much as possible. We just completed a 10-year management plan last year, and we have a list of about 70 recommendations. We have input from throughout the community, private services, tree services, landscape architects, just a variety of people in that trade.
Do you find that people in Boise take a lot of emotional ownership of the trees in the community?
Some people tell me they do. They're real passionate about trees. Fortunately, in an arid climate like we are, it's important to have trees for shade for cooling, and pollution control.
Have you ever had, as you're out having to remove a tree, some concerned neighbors come and challenge you?
Oh, yeah, they do ... I really can't think of an occasion when someone's stopped us from removing a tree. Once we go out there and we will meet with that person, and usually take him over to where the tree is and show him the reasons why we're removing it. In particular, I can remember a gentleman, as we were starting to take the tree down, he called the mayor's office, and of course the mayor called us and asked why we were taking the tree, and I explained to him, and told him that the tree was rotted out inside. The tree looked green and healthy, but inside it was rotted out, and it was a hazard. And the neighbor, after the tree had been cut down, came over to the base of the stump, which had been completely rotted out, and goes "Oh, now I see why."
One issue facing Boise, especially the North End, is these big, old trees. Is that going to be a continuing problem as these trees get older and they start having issues?
That's something we're actually dealing with now. Mainly it's the silver maples that are in that end of town, there's a lot of them there, and they're all very over-mature and dying back. We want to prune them as much as we can before they have to be removed. We try to keep them there as long as we can ... but we're also planting new trees back constantly that are that size tree at maturity, it's just going to take a lot of years to do it.
Is it a matter of trying to diversify the trees that are there?
We don't want to get a monoculture in trees in the area. Years back, in the '70s, in the Woodlawn area of town, which is like 23rd Street to 27th Street and State to Main, had a large population of elm trees, and when Dutch elm disease first came in here, it wiped out almost every elm tree in that area of town.
Don't want to have any more than 10 percent of any one species of tree. We're pretty close to that actually. The only species of tree, silver maples, are a little high, they're around 15 percent. Some of those will have to be removed, the older ones.
In your current position, have you been able to be out there really doing a lot of on-the-ground work?
It's more administrative. I still try to get out with the crews on occasion ... I don't want to forget what it's like to have to be out there, and I think that's important for this position, actually, that whoever gets this position next, they have that experience of being in the field, know what it's like out there when it's 10-below zero in the wintertime or 105-degrees in the summertime. That's important.
Do you miss being out there more often?
Oh, yeah, I love being out there in the field, talking to the public, doing the instruction work we used to do. Getting too old to climb trees anymore, I don't do that anymore.
I've got to know, do you have one heck of a yard at home?
No, I don't, I live in an apartment.
If you could plant one tree, what would it be?
I like the oaks. They're a great tree and they do well here. You have swamp white oaks, northern oaks, river oaks ... I think probably out of all of them, the red oak's my favorite.
Do you feel you're leaving the future of the City of Trees maintaining that name?
I think so. We tried to plant more trees. There's some things we need to keep doing, and that's plant trees, not just on public property, but on private property in new developments, commercial developments especially, those big parking lots.
In your ideal world, you'd basically like to see more trees everywhere