SHERIDAN — A multitude of trees inhabit large portions of public land in Sheridan. However, all the trees have never been fully taken into account.
That should change in the near future. A process to take inventory of every tree on Sheridan city property — a total of more than 4,000 — is nearing its end.
The large-scale project is the first of its kind and is spearheaded by Clark Van Hoosier, the city’s first-ever arborist. Once the data is collected and organized, the city can begin working on a long-term urban forestry plan and take a proactive approach toward tree management.
Van Hoosier said the process should conclude in the next few weeks. Once all the data is gathered and compiled, Van Hoosier will have a much better idea about the urban forestry plan — which he said should be finalized six to 12 months from now — and funding that might be required to maintain a quality canopy.
“Sheridan is a forest, basically,” Van Hoosier said. “… It’s not like the forests up in the mountains. We’ve got roads and utilities, cars and structures and people to worry about. It’s a forest that needs to be actively managed.”
Van Hoosier grew up in Story and attended Big Horn High School. He began the new role last June after previously working as a tree climber in Colorado, a job he enjoyed but was physically demanding. Van Hoosier also oversees Sheridan’s weed and pest control, something that took up the majority of his time last summer.
City of Sheridan Parks Department Superintendent Steve Gage said the arborist position filled a much-need role.
“It was a long time coming for us,” Gage said.
Van Hoosier’s four main concerns are identifying hazardous trees; establishing new trees on the north side of town; educating the public through different events (Van Hoosier said only about 10 percent of the total trees in Sheridan stand on public land, so citizen outreach is vital); and preparing for emerald ash borers. The insects can quickly destroy ash trees, which make up about 20 percent of the trees in Sheridan County. The borers haven’t made it to Wyoming yet, but there have been sightings in Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota in recent years.
Van Hoosier and other employees have already trimmed and pruned trees in the past month, and the city will embark on a project next week related to hazardous trees. Van Hoosier is working with the Sheridan Community Land Trust to remove several acres of Russian olive trees, an invasive species. The SCLT received a grant from the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust to pay for the removal and replacement. The trees will be removed at South Park and Hume Draw. Seven different trees and shrubs species will be planted to replace them: birch, alder, maple, aspen, hawthorn, Ponderosa pine and chokecherry.
VanHoosier said around 1,000 new trees were recently planted near the Interstate 90 exit on the north end of Sheridan that will require consistent attention and maintenance to grow properly.
Van Hoosier said in addition to the obvious benefits that trees provide, like oxygen, slowing down rain and providing shade, they can help in less tangible areas.
“I think the main thing that the trees do, especially in Sheridan, is they provide a sense of place and a sense of community,” Van Hoosier said.
Some of the local trees, like Cottonwoods, are native to the area, but most of them have been planted over the years.
“The trees aren’t really meant to be here,” Van Hoosier said. “There’s a reason either side of town turns to plains. It’s because the trees don’t want to grow here unless we help them out.”
Sheridan has had a Tree City USA designation since 2007, one of about 3,400 communities in the country to have the label. Sheridan met four core standards to receive the designation: maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry and celebrating Arbor Day.
With Van Hoosier adding to some of the existing tree care, the tree environment should improve. He has mostly enjoyed the work and realized Sheridan has one of the better canopies in the state. Van Hoosier aims to one day have the best urban forest in Wyoming, an unofficial title he said is likely held by Cheyenne.
Van Hoosier said the toughest part has involved gaining a better grasp on the specific issues and needs in the area.
“We’re new and we’re limited, so we’re figuring everything out as we go,” Van Hoosier said. “… Putting it all together from scratch, basically, has made it a slow process. It brings with it a lot of opportunities but a lot of pains as well, because no one’s done it before, so we have to build it from the ground up. That takes time.”
The work has just begun, but with a new arborist in place, the city seems to be on track toward improving its trees.