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Missing forest for the trees

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It’s an amount of money some people make in a year — $22,700.

Apparently there is also a tree worth just that much — bark, leaves and all — growing out of the ground in Soldotna.

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That same 45-foot tall paper birch is worth more than some automobiles. But who would decide to take the time to discover that detail? To value that specific tree? To map it, inventory it, and catalogue it along with 500 other trees?

The city of Soldotna did just that. Oh, and it spent $10,000 to do it.

Thanks to a match grant totaling $20,000 — the other half coming from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Urban Forestry Program — Soldotna officials now know just how much the trees growing on city property are worth.

For several days in July, seven people used GPS devices to walk around and evaluate trees around city hall, the police department, Soldotna Creek Park and other locations looking at size, condition, age and other factors.

All this data is supposed to be compiled into a master management plan, which, according to a state forester, will analyze the city’s tree population and provide recommendations for “expanding and improving the health, safety and appearance of the forest.”

To us, this seems to be a case of missing the forest for the trees.

These trees — ranging in value from the high of $22,700 to nothing — were compared to important city assets and infrastructure, like fire engines and police cars, by a DNR community assistance forester involved with the project.

It’s hard not to roll our eyes at such a thought.

But what’s of more concern is that Soldotna officials thought this idea worthy of $10,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Surely there is a better use for that money around the city — one with more tangible benefits to residents of Soldotna.

If officials knocked on any resident’s door and asked if they would like to have that money go to the parks, the schools or the roads — heck, even back into their pockets — or to this project, we think it’d be safe to say that this project would not be high on the list.

We understand there is an intrinsic value to having parks, open space and nicely maintained green spaces in a city, but taking it down to tree-level management and valuation goes just a little too far.

Soldotna’s administration has been smart with the city’s budget over the past few years, and the decision to go ahead with this project seems out of character for the city’s usually financially savvy approach. We can point to numerous projects around the city that fall into the non-essential category, but are worthwhile because of the benefits they provide for people who live in and visit the city. This project doesn’t appear to be one of them.

In short: We should appreciate the resources all around us, including those we might not think of right away, but that doesn’t mean good fiscal judgment should go out the window just because a grant is available.

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