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Managing an Aging Tree Population


The Town of Tarboro is one of only 2 Town Commons remaining in the US, the other is in Boston.  The mature tree population of this historic common has been impacted by many storms over the years which can be seen in the crown damage that has occurred and cleaning pruning that has been carried out.  Many of the trees are also affected by one or more fungal decays which are visible as annual conks, as well as other symptoms like thinning crowns and visible decay.


The site has multiple goals: 

1) manage the existing trees to reduce risk

2) maintain a functioning mature canopy for ecosystem services and aesthetic benefits

3) plant new trees to create a tree canopy for the future


But when so many trees are declining, or have decay, or present a risk – how can the trees be managed in a way to meet goals 1 and 2 at the same time?  It is possible, with an infinite budget, to remove immediate risk issues and then to mitigate risk for the remaining trees.  But like every community, Tarboro does not have an infinite budget for anything, let alone its trees.  So how can Tarboro use their available funds for maximum impact?


The North Carolina Forest Service’s Urban & Community Forestry Program has been working with Tarboro, through a U&CF grant to carry out an inventory on the Historic Town Common, by Treefull Communities.  But U&CF staff have also developed a guide to help the community prioritize and plan its next steps, following the recommendations of the inventory.


While the report references the specific issues on the Common, the approach to risk and planning may be helpful to others managing elderly trees for multiple goals and the challenges that presents.


You can find the 22 page report Decay Fungi and Tree Management on Tarboro’s Historic Common, as well as the other reports here. And you can find an edited version (12 pages) which does not include the specific Town Common information on the NCFS website here.


Nancy Stairs

Urban & Community Forestry Program Coordinator

NC Forest Service