Whirring chain saws and crashing trees tell the story.
Two years of drought have taken a heavy toll on Wichita. Crews are everywhere taking out dead trees and limbs.
By the end of the year, city crews will have removed about 6,000 trees this year. Thats twice as many as were removed in 2011, said Gary Farris, the citys arborist.
Private tree service companies also have seen significant increase in work, and some are having a record year for tree removals.
Trouble for trees in south-central Kansas actually started five years ago with wet years in 2008 and 2009, which caused trees to lose roots. Those trees needed all the roots they could get to soak up what little water was available during the drought years that followed.
It was the worst thing that could follow root loss, said Tim McDonnell, a community forester for the Kansas Forest Service.
In the first part of 2011, official temperatures dropped to 17 below in February, then soared to 100 degrees by May, putting a heavy hit on trees. A mild winter this year allowed disease and insects to flourish and suck the life out of dry, stressed trees.
All kinds of trees we thought would be around for years are dying, said Brian Hurd, arborist for Balls Tree Service. The insect population is 10 to 50 times worse. South-central Kansas has been great for killing trees.
But the problems arent over.
Typically, when you have drought after drought years, you see effects for the next two to five years, McDonnell said.
In the meantime, work to clean out the dead trees is at a fast pace.
On top of already cutting down more than 3,000 dead trees so far this year, the city has pruned about 11,000 trees with a lot of that work including taking out dead limbs, Farris said.
Sometimes questions arise about whether its the citys or the property owners responsibility to take care of a dead tree or hazardous limbs. But Farris said the dividing line is simple:
If the tree is on city property or right-of-way, such as in the green space between a sidewalk and street, the city is responsible. If the tree is on private property, usually on the side of the sidewalk closest to the property, its the owners responsibility.
If a tree is on private property but has dead limbs hanging over streets or sidewalks, no, the city wont prune them back to the property line, Farris said. The property owner must take care of it.
If there are no sidewalks or there are other reasons its difficult to tell where city right-of-way starts and the property owners land begins because boundary stakes are buried, hiring a surveyor is the only sure way of determining the boundary lines, city officials said.
Don Armstrong, of Wichitas Armstrong Land Survey, said a survey generally costs $200 to $500, depending on how many obstacles the surveyor has to work around. Older developments have more obstacles, like trees, he said.
Its worth knowing for sure who is responsible for a dead tree because removing one isnt cheap. Removing a tree about the size of a persons leg up costs $300, with $1,000 to $2,000 for larger trees, according to several tree service companies. One company said its most expensive tree removal in Wichita cost $3,500.
Farris said homeowners need to hire a tree service to cut down a dead tree.
Trying to do it yourself is dangerous, he said.
If the city receives a complaint about a property owner who fails to remove dead trees or limbs that present a safety threat, the office of central inspection will notify the owner, OCI interim superintendent Donte Martin said. If that doesnt work, the city will remove the tree or limbs and send the bill to the property owner, he added.
Anyone with concerns about a dead tree or limbs on city property should call the forestry department at 268-4003 or 268-4004, Farris said.
The city has to look after more than 350,000 trees on its rights-of-way and golf courses and in parks, so losing 6,000 this year doesnt seem like that much less than 2 percent.
But Farris noted thats on top of heavy losses in recent years. Since 2009, the city has averaged losing nearly 3,400 trees yearly. An average year sees the city lose 1,200 to 1,500.
Between January and March of this year, the city planted 1,800 to 2,000 trees. How many will be planted next year is up in the air.
Its all budget driven, Farris said. I havent been given my budget allowance to replace trees at this point. I dont know what we can or cant replace. We plant as many as we can.
Individuals can buy trees and plant them on city rights-of-way. The trees must be suitable for the area and will become city property. They would also need a city permit, which is free, Farris said.