Town of Green Mountain Falls Sharpens Attack Against “Nuisance Trees”

Rick Langenberg

Unless any sudden changes occur, Green Mountain Falls’ elected leaders are expected to finalize efforts this week, aimed at escalating the town’s campaign against dying and falling trees and deteriorating  vegetation, even if they are located on  private property.

As an end result, local residents will soon have to take action regarding problem trees, which could be declared as a nuisance, with the possibility of fines if they are not removed. Under a worst case scenario, the town could even issue a lien against their property, if necessary action isn’t pursued.

At a recent public hearing, the board of trustees gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up for changing its municipal code, with an official definition of “nuisance trees.”

This basically would require a property owner to remove any tree on their land that poses a fire hazard or that is falling down, dying or is creating a problem for adjacent areas.

The action was well received by members of GMF’s fire mitigation committee, who have argued for more punitive action against problem trees that could further the town’s fire risk. In report after report, leaders of the fire mitigation group say time is running out for the town to avoid a major wildfire disaster due to its ultra-abundance of green vegetation.  In essence, the town is loaded with too many trees to achieve even a moderate level of a healthy forest.

Officials have cited the lack of enforcement regarding problems with dying, falling and deteriorating trees, located on private property, as a key hurdle.

In fact, the trustees, in their recent meeting, even opted to toughen the proposed nuisance tree language to include trees on private land that impact adjacent public or private property. Trustee Kathryn Guthrie advocated giving the ordinance a little more teeth. “It seems like it would keep the hazard there,” said the trustee, in describing the initial language, crafted by the town’s attorneys. She and other elected leaders sought a stronger approach that would require action to remove a potential nuisance, and that would expand the definition of a nuisance tree.

The original language mainly just stipulated potential nuisance trees as those that impact adjacent public areas, such as right-of-ways, or “trees which harbor any destructive or communicable disease or other pestilence which endangers the well-being of other trees in the town or which are capable of causing an epidemic spread of insect infestation. In addition, a nuisance tree is also defined as a dead or dying standing tree or a tree that poses a fire hazard.”

But the trustees wanted to expand this definition to encompass trees that affect adjacent private properties. This suggestion was approved with no debate, with the process reaching the finish line for finalizing the town’s long-awaited nuisance tree ordinance.

Final discussion on this issue will still probably occur on Sept. 5, with the possibility of the new law going into effect within a couple of weeks.

A “Soft-ball, Complaint-Driven” Policy

To date, no one has spoken against having a tougher nuisance tree law, according to elected leaders.

In a later interview, Mayor Todd Dixon cautioned that the town plans to take a “soft-ball approach” towards addressing the problem and will initiate a complaint-based policy.  “We want to work with the property owners,” said Dixon.

He cited the main goal of having dead, falling and dying trees removed on private and public lands, as soon as possible. “We realize that in some cases it is going to take some time,” said the mayor, mentioning the costs involved in tree removal. Plus, he admits that advice may be sought by tree experts and by such groups as the Colorado State Forest Service. He says the issue of diseased trees is sometimes tricky, but that determining a dying or dead tree is more clear-cut.

Based on current rules,  the mayor admits the town has had little enforcement powers in dealing with problem trees, a hurdle that town leaders want to remove with their new ordinance.

He stated that the goal is not to initiate fines or take legal action.  In extreme cases, the new law could open the door for the town to actually perform the necessary tree removal action and to send a property owner a bill for the work, and even put a lien on the property, if necessary.  However, the mayor doesn’t see this action occurring, except for an extreme emergency situation.

“We believe that our residents will be cooperative,” said Dixon.

Time to Address Problem Trees

In fact, most commentary regarding this issue has favored a stronger approach towards tree removal of falling and dying trees, along with diseased limbs and vegetation.

In recent years, civic leaders and town volunteers have complained that they know of many noticeable areas and private properties that feature problem trees. Moreover, they are worried about the lack of enforcement, when the town’s wildfire dangers are increasing.

According to some reports by Fire Mitigation Committee Chairman Dave Douglas, Green Mountain Falls is one of the most at-risk communities in the Pikes Peak region for a devastating wildfire.

And many say that the town’s assortment of dying and falling trees will only add more fuel to such a disaster.

However, town officials say their hands have been tied when it comes to taking any action.

This scenario could change slightly with the new ordinance, or at least it may serve as a start.

A number of years ago under a different administration, the town was quite pro-active in addressing its diseased tree problems, especially when the mountain pine beetle epidemic struck the area, infecting hundreds of trees.

A former town clerk even had a list of properties that had potential problems with the pine beetle menace. Contractors were even suggested to help curb the problem by helping to remove the infected trees. Much cooperation occurred, although some complained about using certain designated contractors, and wanted to take down the bad, infected trees themselves.

In recent years, more work has been done through grants to deal with public tree-menace sections, especially along popular hiking trails, with the help of such organizations as CUSP (Coalition for the Upper South Platte). The town has been quite successful in obtaining grants for fire mitigation, but has experienced problems in coming up with matching funds for some of these programs.

Now, more emphasis has been placed on residents working together in mitigating their properties.