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Valley Streamers get lesson in expert tree care

Vinnie Drzewucki, right, told Valley Stream resident Kevin Gray that the pokeweed growing on Gray’s property is poisonous.
Vinnie Drzewucki, right, told Valley Stream resident Kevin Gray that the pokeweed growing on Gray’s property is poisonous.
Melissa Koenig/Herald

“I feel like I’m the Lorax here, but I want everyone here in this room to become a Lorax in their own right,” Vinnie Drzewucki told a small gathering of residents at Village Hall on Oct. 17, referring to the tree-defending character created by Dr. Seuss. Drzewucki, a resource educator at Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension, was the first speaker in a series of events aimed at acquainting the community with what will become a new multi-purpose theater once the courthouse on Rockaway Avenue is completed in 2018.

Drzewucki spoke for about an hour and a half about the importance of proper tree maintenance, and gave Deputy Mayor Vincent Grasso suggestions about how the village could take care of trees on public and private properties. He said that the village should form a tree board that would plant more trees and advise residents against cutting down healthy ones.

“Cutting down a tree reduces your property value and your neighbors’ property value by 15 to 20 percent,” Drzewucki said. “You really need to have the municipality to have a clamp on what private property owners are doing, especially with trees, because trees impact everyone in the community.”

In August, the village board began discussions about a proposed code that would prohibit residents from cutting down trees on their properties unless the trees were a health risk or needed to be removed. The code would be modeled after one in the Village of Malverne.

“Should we demand people get the village’s approval to cut trees on their own property?” Grasso asked in his introduction of Drzewucki. “It’s this sort of conflict of what you do with your property and your own stuff, and the community impact of those actions.”

At the lecture, Drzewucki said he was in favor of the proposed code and said that it is legal. “The ordinances to limit what people can do on their property are very valid, because what you do on your property affects everyone in the community,” he said.

Trees, Drzewucki explained, have environmental, social and economic benefits. They help clean the air of pollutants, slow storm-water runoff and provide shade, which can reduce air-conditioning costs.

Despite these benefits, some Long Islanders are cutting down trees, and utility companies are cutting tree limbs, according to Drzewucki. He said that some residents became wary of curbside trees after Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy, when many trees fell into streets and onto houses on the South Shore.

The reason they came down, however, is because the trees were too spread out, which meant that not enough trees were soaking up the excess water in the soil, Drzewucki explained. He suggested that in the future, the Village of Valley Stream should plant more trees near one another and use porous pavement, which has holes to allow roots to grow, to prevent curbside trees from falling. He also said that the village should plant shorter trees under electricity poles so that the utility companies do not need to chop off limbs.

The lecture ended with resident Kevin Gray pulling leaves and branches from a garbage bag and showing them to Drzewucki so that he could determine which plants on his property were worth keeping. “I have some trees on the property, and I don’t quite know what to do with them,” Gray said.

Drzewucki inspected each plant and passed around the branches, telling the crowd which plants were native and which ones were invasive species. He said that one of the plants, the pokeweed, produces poisonous berries, and that others had medicinal properties.

Gray said he found Drzewucki’s analysis helpful. “I’m really thrilled that I was able to get these questions answered that I had for quite some time,” Gray said. “Now we know what’s a weed, what’s worth keeping, what’s invasive and so on.”

Eugene Boening, the Arthur J. Hendrickson pool groundskeeper, said he attended the lecture because he knew Drzewucki. “Every time I speak to him, I learn something,” Boening said, adding that he learned about grants that the village could apply for to fund the planting of new trees.

Grasso invited Drzewucki to speak at the inaugural lecture in the village’s series to share his insights. “The reason we chose him as the debut speaker is primarily because there’s been so much interest in trees, he said. “People getting trees in their front lawn, the benefit of trees in the communities, and so on and so forth, and I thought this would be a good introduction to that.”

The lecture series was proposed as a way to promote the new theater, which was formerly a courtroom. Grasso said officials are planning more lectures on sports and cooking. “We’re going to spread it out a little so everyone gets something they like,” he said.

No further dates for the series have been finalized. More information about the lecture series will be posted on the Village of Valley Stream Facebook page and website, at vsvny.org.