Audit reveals tree-trimming program’s deep-rooted problems

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The Parks Department is mismanaging the war on trees in Brooklyn, a city audit found.

The Department put the wrong trees on its pruning hit list and mistakenly paid contractors to cut the wrong plants in the borough, according to a report Comptroller Scott Stringer released on Aug. 18. The money and manpower could have pruned plants that pose a risk to residents, the city’s top accountant charged.

“I’m not going out on a limb when I say that Parks’ performance has been unacceptab­le,” Comptroller Scott Stringer said. “The city pays out millions per year in settlements resulting from falling limbs. Reducing the city’s exposure to these types of claims is a mandate that cuts across all city agencies.”

The city doled out nearly $15 million in 2013 alone for injuries and property damage caused by falling tree limbs, according to Stringer’s office.

Man has been caught in a tug-of-war with trees for terrestrial supremacy from time immemorial, but after Hurricane Sandy’s salty flood waters killed the root systems of thousands of Brooklyn’s street trees, undead “zombtrees” have been dropping limbs on unsuspecting residents at an alarming rate.

Brooklyn is home to 142,000 trees, according to a Parks census last taken in 2005–2006.

The borough’s forestry office — a Parks sub-agency — maintains a list of trees that need trimming, but the catalog included saplings that arborists had no business barbering, the report said. A survey by the comptroller’s office found that 18 percent of Brooklyn trees trimmed in October 2013 were too small to be included on pruning lists by the Parks Department’s own guidelines.

In its formal response to the audit, the Parks Department contended it has not mismanaged the program and has not exposed the city to greater liability for injuries to people or property. The Department will nonetheless adopt changes the comptroller recommended to improve the program — including maintaining an accurate list of eligible trees and conducting follow-up inspections to make sure the work was actually done.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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