Thinking About Trees

Alert — and worried — “06880” reader Jane Nordli writes:

The story of Victoria Gouletas — the woman hit by the falling tree limb — is so sad.

And it raises an important question, though I don’t know if there is an answer.

Our trees have become dangerous, literally. Most of my neighbors’ yards were littered with branches and limbs from last week’s storm. Our next door neighbors are renters, so I don’t know when their mess will be cleaned up.

But the trees separating our property are ginormous, and terrify me. The yard is full of downed limbs — big ones. If just one of those trees came down, it would crush my house.

More than a week after the March 7 nor’easter, yards are still littered with tree limbs.

Should something be done to prevent another horrendous accident from happening?

A few years ago, someone was killed in their car here by a falling tree. Do other communities with gigantic mature trees do anything to protect their citizens? Is it a stupid question to ask?

I have some big trees as well, so I’m not casting aspersions. I hear the buzz saws going every day, so I know the tree guys (and gals) are cutting away and chipping the dozens of fallen branches, sections of trees, giant limbs and so on.

I don’t know that there is anything we can do but put up with the mess, and the possible heartbreaking harm to ourselves.

But if anyone has an idea, let’s hear it.

Many of Westport’s trees fall close to homes. Some fall on them. (Photos/Jane Nordli Jessep)

29 responses to “Thinking About Trees

  1. Hmmmmm; one moves from an urban area and then wants to get rid of pesky deer, “dangerous” coyotes and now TREES.
    Get real…perhaps consider doing some maintenance on the older, larger trees in the yard…keeping the baby and tossing the bath.

  2. I had an experienced tree person come and cut all my white pines down years ago. Expensive but necessary as you point out. Not sure the town will go home by home pay for tree removal on private property but I might be wrong.

  3. Susan Iseman

    We have a neighbor with numerous trees that teeter on disaster. They currently have two enormous trees which are clearly dead. If & when they fall, they’d block entry to our road, sever power lines and hopefully not hit people or vehicles of those who live on our road. They certainly dodged (another) bullet this winter as these trees are still standing. Not much anyone can do when an obstinate property owner won’t maintain their trees and their property.

    • The dead ones should be removed for sure and is the responsibility of every homeowner to keep their property save from harming neighbors and their property. Key word: responsibility!

  4. Bob Stalling

    Jut because it’s a tree is big, does not mean it’s dangerous…
    Species, location, condition, soils, construction (damaging roots), growth pattern and more all play a role.
    Call an Arborist, or if its ‘a a town tree call the Tree Warden and maintain your trees with storms in mind.
    That’s the answer.

  5. Rindy Higgins

    I too have a neighbor who has a huge dead tree which, if it falls, might land across wires, on our property and one of our cars. I’ve written several letters to this particular person and have even brought him over to see the tree which he said he would take care of. That was several years ago. P&Z told me there is nothing I can do and, if it falls, he doesn’t have to pay for our property repair. Hopefully it won’t land on a person.

    • If you received the opinion of a certified arborist that the tree in question represents a hazard to you and your property, send the owner of the tree a (certified) letter informing him of this fact. Then he is at least on notice and thus liable for damages if/when the tree in question strikes your property.
      It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s something you can do to possibly help.

      • Rindy Higgins

        The 2 letters I sent were certified, but I never received confirmation back that he had received/accepted them…which is the first problem as he could claim that he never knew despite their being sent. I have hesitated to hire an arborist for that reason but maybe I should as proof of record.

  6. Jacques Voris

    The immediate answer is simple and straightforward: Trees, like any other aspect of your property are your responsibility to maintain. If there are large trees on your property that you want to remove, do so. If the tree is in the public right of way, call the town. They will send out the Tree Warden to evaluate the tree and determine what should be done, if anything. Trees on other people’s property are their responsibility.

  7. Mary Ruggiero

    My neighbor’s white pines are huge and some are covered with poison ivy.
    When I moved in, I got an arborist to come in and top them off by about 15 feet in spots. I paid for it myself. There’s a new owner there now. The storm brought down several huge branches on my side and a few on theirs. My plan is to go over to suggest topping and one removal of a widow maker and this time I will not volunteer to pay. Hopefully, they will agree.

    I already paid to have the current storm cleaned up…part of home ownership no matter shoe trees they are.

  8. Several years ago, in another CT town, I was injured as a large tree limb fell and hit my car as I drove under it. The explosion of the limb hitting my car is something I will never forget. My frantic attempt at avoiding oncoming traffic as I tried to process what was happening was harrowing. Fortunate for me, I was able to keep my car on the road and stop as I tried to figure out what hit my vehicle! My car protected me from serious injury, but the fear of driving on tree lined roads still bothers me. I love trees and the beauty and shade that they provide, but if you not willing to maintain and/or not able to afford to, then you should not have them on your property or along the street. For pedestrians and drivers, I say try to avoid these areas, but if you see a problem, please report it to the town so that maybe someone will take care of it!

  9. Thank you everyone for the comments. As I said, most likely there’s nothing to be done. Most of the tree limbs scattered about on the road in my neighborhood are from healthy trees and I suspect mostly are well maintained. Heavy snow such as what we experienced last week, is unusual, but over the last 5 or 6 years we have had more than a few storms which have been quite destructive to healthy trees. I in no way was suggesting the town cut the trees, nor that my neighbors do so. So I guess all we can do is cross our fingers.

  10. Baxter Urist

    Two neighbor tree stories:
    #1 – Years ago a neighbor’s large tree fell on our property. He told me that the CT law states that the part of his tree that fell on my property was my responsibility so he would not contribute a dime to the $900 clean up. I spoke to a lawyer friend who suggested that in the future I send a registered letter to a neighbor who had a tree I was concerned about. At least that way they might be on the hook for the clean up.
    #2 – Last year a different (very nice) neighbor came over and asked in a very apologetic tone to cut down one of our large trees that shaded her patio. She offered to pay the total cost. Pardon the pun…we split it.
    Lastly, I agree with the comments posted. Hire an arborist to maintain your trees.

    • I do have an arborist and my trees are in great shape. That isn’t really what I was asking. The story of the woman in our town becoming permanently disabled due to a tree falling on her feels compelling and seems to invite at least some kind of community reflection, beyond the legal questions, about if—and please note that I really doubted there was a solution—there was any way we can do anything to minimize the damage which results from the combination of intense storms and our large and mature trees. I am talking to my arborist about this, by the way. We’ll see what he says.

  11. Jens Buettner

    There are two important points:
    First, I moved here from Europe a few years ago and in Europe it’s a law that if a neighbors tree falls on your property and any damage is done to you, your house, car, fence etc the person is responsible and has to pay for all damage done, as well as for the clean up, plus there is a fine if you don’t do so. Maybe if that would be the case here, people would show more responsibility.
    Second, if people control there yards better in the way that they cut these wild growing, far too close standing trees, which are not even beautiful, as they are only thin and high and only have leaves in the very top, there would be less damage, as a tree which stands with more room “to breathe” and can grow in a healthy way, is much stronger tree.

  12. Peter Flatow

    Remember the yelling and beating of chests over the tree maintenance along the road into Longshore? Worked out really well. Trees need to be maintained. It is expensive and doesn’t guarantee total safety but it sure improves the odds. In a shout out to Mark Cannon (Cannon Tree) he comes to our house regularly, advises us on what needs to come down (a giant Pine), what needs to have dead wood trimmed and what needs pruning. It is expense but it is our way of hopefully beating the odds of having a problem. I am from Vermont and love trees!

  13. Lush greenery is part of our town’s charm – one of the reasons we all live here. However, like many good things in life, trees are potentially dangerous – they need to be maintained and even then present risks. I guess I’m just chiming in here since most of this has already been said, but if responsible parties – property owners, utilities, road authorities, etc – all do our jobs, the risks can be kept to a minimum.

  14. Bob Stalling

    Any tree that grows fast i.e., Poplars, White Pines, Norway Maples etc tend to be brittle and snap. The cells are elongated so the wood is weaker and lighter.
    Additionally, a tree like a White Pine has needles that come in groups of 5, so there is a lot of surface area for snow and ice to collect. This results in a lot of breakage.
    Trees like these should not be planted close to houses, driveways, roads, wires etc.
    In fact, Norway Maples grow fast and are so prolific, they are considered an invasive species in Connecticut ….and any time a wetland remediation is done they have to be removed.
    Call an arborist.
    And people should refrain from protesting and calling them tree haters when they see a tree being removed…there is a reason.

  15. My neighbor who is an attorney and rents out the house behind me has a huge tree in his back yard that has branches that reach well into my back yard. When I told him I was nervous it could take down my fence he promptly sent someone over to trim those limbs. Never an issue.

  16. Ernie Lorimer

    I agree maintaining your trees is a responsible thing to do, but trees are a natural condition and a property owner isn’t legally responsible for them. A useful survey:

    I had three dead trees taken down in the fall, and another one wired. Good peace of mind.

    • This is so useful, Ernie. Thank you for posting the link. I have had several trees taken down over the last 8 or so years, not dead but constantly shedding enormous branches, and would consider wiring others as well. The survey is interesting to read. Thanks again.

  17. Dave Feliciano

    On our neighbors property there was a huge oak tree that had a noticeable crack, with the majority of the tree facing my bedroom. I approached my neighbors Leo about perhaps removing the tree and offered to pay for half. Vanessa and Leo quickly agreed and graciously declined my offer to split the cost.
    The tree was promptly and efficiently removed. We had agreed that the contractors could come onto our property with whatever equipment was necessary, and to not be concerned about any collateral damage to shrubs or lawn. We have always cooperated with them and they havebeen exemplary neighbors in every way. After all Good neighbors are what makes Westport such a welcoming place. We should share the good news, and thank the volunteers P and Z, for their service to us.

  18. This “alert and worried” writer does not deserve a response as her inquiry is so ignorant. Should we ban cars (crashes), the sun (Melanoma), and dogs as they may bite? Unfortunately, there are dreadful accidents that happen from time to time.Be vigilant about the health of your own trees. If you are afraid of life-giving trees move to the city. I am sure there is no danger there.

  19. Kendall Gardiner

    @Laura Myer
    “ There is no such thing as an ignorant question, there are only ignorant answers”

  20. Mary Ruggiero

    Luara, your response is unnecessarily unkind. The same info can be given without the tone of your response.

  21. Should something be done? If you mean as a whole, no. If you want to reduce risk on your own property hire a tree care specialist to trim the right branches, but you’ll still need to stay inside when it’s windy. If you actually want to reduce your risk of death as a whole go check out the CDC’s list of leading causes of death and start working on protecting yourself against what statistics says is coming for you – trees won’t be on there. We live in nature and it will sometimes kill us. There are people living in less stable parts of the country and world who would find this discussion comical (they’d laugh at our snow day behaviors too).

    • Jens Buettner

      “There are people living in less stable parts of the country and world who would find this discussion comical (they’d laugh at our snow day behaviors too).”
      Comical is still a very nice description, I would rather say “first world problems”.

  22. Bobbi Essagof

    First world or third, this is where we live and these are the problems we are facing. Let’s not rush to judgement as this has been a very helpful and thought provoking discussion for me. The great thing about 06880 is that we can voice our concerns and sometimes it helps someone, so if you want to judge please go elsewhere.
    Thanks Dan for giving us all a voice.

  23. Susie Valentine Collins

    Trees – they provide us with oxygen, shade, privacy, beauty and a place for birds (bug eaters) and others to reside. I too have had some serious tree damage over the past few years that had to be addressed. My tree guy has taught me that removal of weak portions will prolong the life of my mature trees, and that healthy trees can withstand the storms. Unfortunately, my neighbors have removed most of their trees, leaving mine to bear full brunt of the winds and weather. The esthetics have suffered greatly. It’s time to rejuvenate the landscape with some plantings. After removal of the latest limbs and debris…