Possible tree census in San Antonio's future

Knowing actual number could make for healthier tree population

SAN ANTONIO – Looking at the beautiful canopies within San Antonio’s Whispering Oaks neighborhood, you would never know the area’s tree population once battled oak wilt.

“It was terrible,” said Howard Alwais, Whispering Oaks Homeowners Association president. “I mean, the problem is this neighborhood was called Whispering Oaks for a reason."

Oak wilt, an incurable disease that ravages oak trees, spread to dozens of trees in the neighborhood. Once it takes hold, the disease is difficult and expensive to combat.

"You have to cut the tree. Otherwise, you run the risk of them falling or harming your home or whatever,” Alwais said.

The neighborhood is now mostly oak wilt free, but supports a new proposal by the city of San Antonio that calls for a tree census. 

"What we want is a better way to measure our tree populations,” said Rod Sanchez, director of development services for the city of San Antonio. "We have no idea what the types of trees are, how old they are, how big they are."

Officially, the tree census is called the Forest Inventory and Analysis Program. The proposal has been presented to the San Antonio City Council by the city's Development Services Department and will go up for a vote on Jan. 19Should it pass, the city’s trees would be surveyed by a person, with a certain percentage being analyzed each year.

It is a move that Sanchez said would benefit the health of San Antonio’s entire tree population.   

"If we have, and I’m making this up, 80 percent of our trees being oak trees, well then we may be in trouble,” Sanchez surmised.

If that were the case, then San Antonio could be more susceptible to oak wilt than anyone ever knew. In the past, aerial imagery could show how much of the city is covered as a canopy, but that actual number of trees and variation of species was anyone’s guess.

By knowing actual numbers, Sanchez also believes it would help the city when it comes to knowing what species of trees should be handed out and what trees would be best to plant.

The program would cost $150,000 and would be funded by the Tree Mitigation Fund.

"Whatever the city is willing to do to help is certainly going to help our neighborhood,” Alwais said.

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