There is a saying that Chautauqua would be nothing without its lake, which is perhaps the heart of the Institution. As biologist Rick Constantino points out, that heart would be nothing without its kidneys.
“Trees are the kidneys of the watershed,” he said. “They filter water, slow down runoff and keep nutrients from entering the lake.”
Constantino is a senior biologist and eco-services manager at Forecon Inc., a forestry and natural resources company based in Jamestown. He will highlight the importance of tree planting and pruning for the health of Chautauqua Lake and the safety of Chautauquans during tonight’s Lake Walk. The walk begins at 6:30 p.m. at the covered porch at Heinz Beach, below the Youth Activities Center.
During this past off-season, Forecon worked on an ongoing, large-scale inventory project at Chautauqua to assess the health and diversity of the trees on the grounds. Though the company has done work for the Institution since 2013, this year’s focus is on trees in “Old Chautauqua,” which includes central areas such as Bestor Plaza, the Athenaeum Hotel and the Hall of Philosophy.
“We physically walked up to and assessed the size, condition and risk factors associated with each tree,” Constantino said.
Constantino’s team examined the biodiversity of the trees on the grounds, encouraging gardens and grounds to plant different types and sizes of trees.
“The Institution was very heavy on a few species, in particular sugar maple trees,” he said. “Whenever you have a significant proportion of one species, you worry that if an invasive species comes through, you’ll lose a lot of your trees.”
Forecon has actively worked to stop the spread of invasive species, particularly the emerald ash borer, which has affected trees in New York state. EABs are a species of beetle that bore holes into ash trees, cutting off the trees’ circulatory systems and strangling them to death. The company offers a chemical that can be injected into trees to protect them from EAB infestations.
“The demand for that service has picked up — especially with the number of trees that are now being found with EAB in them,” said John Gifford, vice president of Forecon.
Though EAB has not been spotted on trees at the Institution, Constantino said this type of pest is one reason why planting different kinds of trees is important, as it reduces the likelihood that many trees would be devastated if EAB or another invasive species were to permeate the area.
Constantino said Chautauqua has worked to save and prolong the lives of some of its biggest, oldest trees. Part of Forecon’s job this year was to advise the Institution of when to cut down its cherished, ancient specimens and replace them with younger, newer trees, especially when the older trees posed safety risks to people.
“By pointing that out, it helped them realize they needed to continue with their aggressive planting program,” he said. “As we remove a tree, we have to replace a tree, or plant two trees. We also pointed out additional planting sites where perhaps they could put more trees in.”
Constantino said Forecon’s involvement with Chautauqua falls under the category of an urban forestry project, as it maintains its trees not for timber resources, but for the aesthetic and environmental services they provide.
Urban forestry is just one of the many types of projects Forecon undertakes. Gifford said the name of the company is a combination of the words “forestry,” “recreation,” “ecology” and “conservation.”
With two offices in New York state, three in Pennsylvania and one in West Virginia, Forecon works with forest landowners to ensure their forests are well maintained and valuable. Gifford values this work because it creates economic incentives for people to invest in and maintain forestland.
“It’s expensive to own forestland, and people tend to take that for granted,” he said. “It’s nice to say we should preserve woods, but not everyone realizes what it takes to keep an investment forestland property properly managed.”
Forecon aims to prevent investors from having to sell their properties to developers, as the true value of trees is not necessarily reflected in their market value.
“When they’re economically challenged, a lot of forestland ends up being subdivided and sold for development purposes,” Gifford said. “But a well-managed forest property provides society with many benefits, such as clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, shade and recreational opportunities.”
Chautauqua, he said, is no exception.
“Those trees are a valuable resource for a community like Chautauqua,” he said.