By Phil Corso
Free trees are coming back to Queens to supplement the beating suffered by the borough during Superstorm Sandy late last year, the New York Restoration Project said.
The group, which teamed up with the city’s MillionTreesNYC project with the goal of planting 1 million new trees by 2017, announced this year’s fifth annual tree giveaway program with the second Queens events scheduled April 13 at A&S Whitestone Nursery at 23-02 Francis Lewis Blvd. Several other giveaways will follow across the borough and the city until nearly 5,000 trees are doled out, an NYRP spokesman said.
The annual planting season arrived at an opportune time, NYRP Community Initiatives Manager Mike Mitchell said. According to the city Parks Department, Hurricane Sandy had downed more than 12,000 trees along city streets and roughly 5,000 throughout 29 acres of parks alone.
“The Parks Department is amazing in consideration of the breadth of their responsibility, but with the storm, it is understandable that maintenance is overwhelming,” an NYRP spokeswoman said. “With tree giveaways, the trees are guaranteed to be well taken care of by private citizens, since they will be planting the trees on their own property. The giveaways ensure that trees are planted, trees are taken care of and we’re reaching our 1 million mark without adding burden on Parks.”
Mitchell said climate change has shifted the project’s approach to delivering different species of trees to curb the damage in future storms. This year, Mitchell said the tree giveaways would include more salt-tolerant trees that could withstand storm water runoff with a bit more ease than the more common evergreen trees in the past.
“It definitely changed our strategy,” Mitchell said. “Now we are trying to plant more trees in the areas where Sandy hit the hardest.”
Moving forward, Mitchell said rising global temperatures could ultimately change the landscape of tree species in areas like northeast Queens.
“Diversification is a really big thing,” Mitchell said. “Our goal is to be able to plant things in people’s backyards that the Parks Department is not able to.”
The NYRP will host more than 30 giveaways throughout the city in the coming months with anywhere between 200 and 300 trees donated for free to anyone willing to take them. Residents taking home trees will also receive a lesson on how to install and care for them, the NYRP said.
This season, Mitchell said he wanted to ensure that NYRP reached out to those communities hit hardest by the storm, including the Rockaways, which suffered some of the most severe damage. But in that area, residents told the NYRP they needed more time to clean up before accepting any new trees.
“Our contacts in the Rockaways will need to wait until the summer and fall to plant anything new,” Mitchell said. “They are still sorting out the messes there, but said they can definitely host a giveaway soon. We just want to make sure they have enough time to prepare.”
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.