Monthly Archives: November 2013

Meet Erik Dihle, Baltimore City’s Arborist

Erik Dihle spent 18 years working for the military, landscaping and caring for Arlington Cemetery's trees and horticulture. Hired as Baltimore's City Arborist in 2009, he planted himself in Charm City and dug in. Here it's a much looser landscape, with huge budget constraints.

Snowmagedon, the derecho, the looming emerald ash borer, aging trees in neighborhoods, no trees in neighborhoods--it's a good thing Erik is a guy who likes a challenge. His budget is inching up. Directing the TreeBaltimore program, he strategizes the business of "doubling the tree canopy by 2040," a gauntlet laid down two administrations ago and supported by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake who wants to see Baltimore's population rise by 10,000 people. A leafy city is a healthy attractive place to live, and trees are an important way to filter polluted stormwater washing into the Chesapeake Bay.

Dihle at the Forestry Division

Whether it is the condition of a single tree or the 2.6 million he is responsible for, Erik is always interested, always strategizing. Responding more quickly to neighbor's calls for dead tree removal: Forestry inspectors are on it. Tree-trimming, a victim of budget cuts, nonetheless is necessary  to improve the city's stock of trees as they grow: "A pro-active pilot program of pruning has started soon, with a budget of $150,000.00 for trees under 10-inch caliper, in two or three neighborhoods," Erik is pleased to say.

In further good news, "There will be mitigation for trees that have to come down due to the Redline." And then there is $1.4 million dollars from the Exelon merger to support TreeBaltimore plantings that will boost the tree canopy in Oliver, Greektown, Brooklyn, Pigtown, Station North, Middle East, Butcher's Hill, Ashburton, and other neighborhoods. "For Governor O'Malley's Stream Restoration Challenge,' says Dihle, "we are getting 22 schools and their teachers involved in tree plantings this fall, next spring and next fall."

Erik is employing an intern from UMBC to update information on the city's notable trees. "Maybe we'll come up with an app for Baltimore's Notable Trees." Baltimore, an underplanted, underfunded city, has one considerable asset, he will tell you. "It is that there are all this disparate, different groups, very passionate about  greening the city. I want to bring them together under the big tent of the TreeBaltimore Working Group."

The TreeKeepers certification program, designed and administered by BTT executive director Amanda Cunningham, with a staff drawn from all these very groups, is a prime example of this big tent thinking. Treekeepers is free for citizens and communities who want to transform their neighborhoods and see that their trees thrive. Attend and be qualified--and carry Erik Dihle's signature in your wallet to prove it.


Trees We Love: Amanda Cunningham & her Wye Oak Offspring

Amanda Cunningham and her Wye Oak

"Years ago I purchased two Wye Oak seedlings from the state’s Buckingham Forest Tree Nursery," says Amanda Cunningham,  Director of Programs for the Baltimore Tree Trust, " They were among the last saplings offered by the State Forester from the ancient Wye Oak, the nation’s largest white oak, which lived for over 460 years in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore."

"At the time of planting, I think it was 1993; my back yard was dominated by my 30’ x 40’ vegetable garden – a love of labor that produced some delicious corn and a lot of weeds.  The seedlings were planted along two sides of my garden.  Hopefully, I thought, they will provide a pleasant shady spot."

"Well, it wasn’t long before I accidently mowed them both down – darn those weeds! But one sapling did survive to grow into a magnificent tree.  The tree outlasted the vegetable garden and is now the senior specimen of a naturalized no-mow area.  My Wye Oak stands 23’ in height with a 2’ DBH."

"White oak are said to be symbols of strength and longevity.  My little tree has certainly proved that to be so.  I think of its parent, the mighty Wye Oak, starting life growing alongside an Indian trail in the - 1500’s and surviving many storms and land changes over hundreds of years.  It is very humbling."

Learn the Urban Sport of De-Bagging Trees

Back in the 1980s, Steve Young and Clint Roby of Butcher’s Hill took up the urban sport of Tree De-Bagging, removing plastic bags snagged high up on the branches of trees, an arboreal blight.

Roby recalls, “Steve was bothered by a bag in a tree outside his bedroom window that made a lot of noise in the wind, and both of us hated how bad the treed bags made the neighborhood look. Steve came up with the solution— painting poles – and the Butchers Hill [Neighborhood Assn.] bought our two debagging poles [a Mr. Longarm pole, telescoping to 24 feet, with a utility blade]. Steve probably went out a few times before I joined him, and a few neighbors have accompanied us at various times.”

Young quickly learned that Tree De-Bagging, best pursued in wintry months when trees are bare, has its perils. “On my very first trip out, I was holding the pole in an awkward way and managed to cut my thigh with the utility knife blade at the tip of the pole.  I had to get stitches.  Since then, I've been very careful.”

Steve Young De-Bags

Young and Roby began to discover some of the unnatural objects lurk in the branches of trees: “Magnetic tape from VCR and tape cassettes, helium balloons, the ribbons wrapped around branches—very difficult,” says Young, “bike tires, kites (in Patterson Park), hula hoops, all manner of underwear, roofing materials, various kinds of wrapping material and insulation, a bag of chicken bones, shoes; whatever can get into a tree.”

Like any sport, Tree De-Bagging has its own skill set. Young is especially proud of the move he calls the "spaghetti twirl," where they wrap the bag around the pole tip until the bag gives way.  Sometimes they can cut the bag handles with the razor blade at the tip of the pole.

Steve Young & Clint Roby


Not only is Tree De-bagging a somewhat physically demanding sport, it often entails highly appreciative audiences. “You'd be surprised how grateful people are when we clean a tree in front of their house,” says Young. “It adds to the feeling of doing something worthwhile.”

Says Young: “My favorite story happened a few years ago we were debagging on Chester Street down by Eastern Avenue where a tree always collects bags. After we cleaned the tree, a woman stuck her head out of a nearby second floor window,  thanked us profusely, saying that she had been praying to the Virgin Mary about the bags in that tree, and, miraculously, we came along."

Other tips from these Butcher’s Hill pros?  Steve: “We try to get the bags when they're fresh. Over time they degrade into ‘stringy’ bags, which are very difficult and frustrating to remove. And we sometimes work in tandem on very high bags-- one of us will hook a branch and pull it down a bit, while the other one snags the bag.”

The De-Bagging Tool


When wielding those long poles, beware of parked cars and utility wires, advises Young. Be sure to carry poles so you don't injure yourselves or anyone on the sidewalk. Sometimes a bag will be in a branch over the roadway, so sometimes you have to stand in the street to get a bag. Also, after rain, expect bags full of water.

Any words of wisdom to others who might want to take up de-bagging? “Tree debagging is good upper-body exercise; we think of it as our winter sport. Clint jokes that it should be in the Winter Olympics.” And as an added bonus, says Young, “The telescoping pole can actually be used for its original purpose--cleaning windows. I've done my 2nd-story windows this way) and painting.”

Steve Young and Clint Roby offer occasional Tree De-Bagging Workshops.

Planting Final Trees for 2013 in McElderry Park

On Saturday November 16, 2013, neighbors and TreeKeepers gathered to plant the final two trees of the 2013 season on E. Fayette St. next to William Paca Elementary School in McElderry Park, our first Trees for Public Health Neighborhood. With the planting of that 220th tree, the Baltimore Tree Trust and its McElderry Park partners — McElderry Park Community Association, Banner Neighborhoods Community Corporation, and Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church — are near the half-way point for planting the street trees that will double the local tree canopy.

This Red Maple is a memorial tree. Photo by Peggy Fox.