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February snowstorm leaves Whatcom County awash in broken limbs, toppled trees

The snowstorm that blanketed Whatcom County the last weekend in February did more than disrupt traffic and bring a belated dose of winter fun to children whose classes were canceled.

The storm also killed or damaged thousands of trees when the snow put too much strain on limbs and branches.

Freezing temperatures at night anchored the wet, heavy snow to trees, and the lack of a stiff wind meant the snow stayed there unless smart tree owners knocked it loose with a broom or a stick.

"It acted like an ice storm," said Terry Maczuga who lives near Bellingham and works near Everson as lead horticulturalist at Cloud Mountain Farm Center. "It was the sheer weight of the snow."

Deciduous and evergreen trees both suffered.

"It spread itself around, species-wise," said James Luce, arborist with Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department. "This one was just widespread damage, up there with the big windstorms in the early '90s."

Several maples sustained major damage at Bloedel Donovan Park, and the tunnel-like tree canopy over a portion of the road to the top of Sehome Arboretum is now just a memory, Luce said.

During the storm city crews initially focused on removing trees and limbs to clear roads, he said. The focus now is on removing more trees and limbs that pose a hazard, clearing trails and secondary roads, and chipping the material into mulch for parks.

Mike McFarlane, director of Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department, said a "substantial number of trees" came down on park property, but most county trails are clear again thanks to cleanup work by county crews, trail stewards and volunteer groups.

Luce said the past few winters had been easy on trees, which may have left more old and weakened ones vulnerable to last month's snowfall.

At Bayview Cemetery, several maples trees toppled, some grave markers were knocked over, and a limb pierced the shop roof like a spear, said Marcia Wazny, cemetery manager.

"We'll be doing chipping for quite some time," she said.

At WSU Whatcom County Extension, many people have been calling for advice on how to deal with their trees, said Beth Chisholm, master gardener and coordinator of the Community First Gardens program. The storm's timing was favorable, at the least, she said, because now is a good time to prune trees and landscape plants, anyway.

Here's some advice for tree owners from Chisholm and Maczuga.

- For a cracked or dangling limb, prune it back to another branch or to the main trunk, rather than cutting it mid-limb.

- Use a sharp saw or other device for a clean cut, and cut it an angle that isn't horizontal to the ground. Prune the tree during dry weather and leave the cut untreated.

"The wound will heal a lot better that way," Maczuga said

- If the trunk is cracked but the tree is desirable, check with an arborist to see if the trunk can be bolted to save the tree.

- If a tree must be removed, consider letting the roots rot in place, rather than dig them out and have to deal with an aching back and a large hole in the ground.

- If a large tree must be taken down or high limbs must be pruned, consider hiring a tree service company to handle the job, especially if buildings or power lines are nearby. Check to see if your homeowner's insurance will help cover the cost.

- For that pile of loose limbs, let them rot, rent a chipper or hire someone to chip them for you, or haul them to Bellingham's Clean Green Transfer Station.


- People with questions about damaged trees can call Whatcom County Extension, 360-676-6736, ext. 11. If a volunteer doesn't answer, leave a message and they will return your call.

- Bellingham's Clean Green Transfer Station at Lakeway Drive and Woburn Street is open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends through Oct. 26. The station accepts yard waste, including limbs 8 inches or less in diameter and less than 7 feet in length.

The fee is $5 per load until April 5, when the fee rises to $10. Exact change only. A load is defined as a pickup truck, garbage bag, trailer or bundle. A pickup truck with a trailer is charged as two loads.