Our Association recently completed a Member Satisfaction and Priorities Survey to identify strategic priorities for the coming years. The Health of RSF Trees and Forests was 4th among 16 RSF Services/Features rated “Most Important” by residents, topped only by Wildfire Prevention (another forest-related issue), Association Financial Management, and the RSF Patrol. Additionally, Tree and Forest Health was one of only 3 items rated as “Highly Important” but “Low in Resident Satisfaction.” These findings highlight residents’ appreciation for the value of our RSF trees, as well as a desire for Board attention to this community asset.
The Association’s Forest Health and Preservation Committee (FHPC) provides guidance about maintaining the beauty and environmental benefits of our forest, while also protecting us from wildfires. In 2021 and 2022, the Committee prioritized replanting trees along our Golf Course perimeter to replace those cut down during the last two course renovations. The Association approved only 6 trees for removal during the 2021 renovation, but more than 60 trees were removed. The 2014 Golf Club Master Plan recommended planting more than 100 new Eucalyptus, Oak, Sycamore, and Redbud trees on the course, but relatively few were planted or survived.
Today about half of all trees on the Golf Course in 2014 have disappeared representing a loss of more than 200 trees that contributed to the history, beauty, and reputation of our Golf Course and trail. The Association’s Forest Health Study also revealed a severe shortage of young course trees, only 6% compared to the 40% recommended for a future golf course canopy.
Is it expensive to replace these trees? In a word, no. Based on recent experience with tree planting in the RSF Arboretum near the southwest corner of the golf course, RSF staff estimate a cost of about $22,500 for 100 trees in 24” boxes and an additional $4,000 for irrigation supplies. This is a fraction of the cost of removing 60+ mature trees during the recent renovation.
Countless walkers, equestrians, golfers, and Covenant homeowners lament the substantial tree loss along our golf course perimeter. The trail circling our course is widely regarded as RSF’s most popular and well-traveled trail segment. As our climate heats up, trees cool the course trail with shade and provide skyline views, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, and enhanced property values for all residents. Golf course architects report invaluable functional and aesthetic benefits of trees that do not compromise playability, including green backdrops, framing, signature/statement trees, identifying doglegs, directional trees, screening undesirable views, shade, bird habitat, and protecting non-golfers from errant balls (GCM/Golf Course Management, 2021).
In October 2021, the RSFA Board approved creation of a Tree Replacement Planning Group (TRPG) to craft a comprehensive plan for replanting trees along the renovated course. Appointed members represent the Association and Golf Club staff, FHPC, Trails Committee, and Golf Club members. Community workshops were promised for review and input on tree-planting plans proposed by this group. However, the TRPG has met only twice in 11 months with no meetings since June.
The FHPC has recommended that more Covenant residents with long-term knowledge of our golf course trees be added to the TRPG, including equestrians, neighboring property owners, and regular walkers and runners of the course trails. Research shows that meaningful engagement of key stakeholders at the front-end of community projects takes advantage of local knowledge and preferences, increasing community support and satisfaction. The FHPC also recommended that this group include a Landscape Architect and an independent Arborist who knows our trees and can advise on tree selection, appearance, health and disease prevention, growth rate, life expectancy, and proper pruning.
Ranch residents have voiced a need to prioritize RSF Trees and Forest Health, including replanting our Golf Course trees. Our Forest Health and Preservation Committee is well-prepared to collaborate in identifying appropriate tree species, locations, a tree replacement budget, and a tree management plan that includes a tree-replacement policy. Committee members have studied RSF’s comprehensive Forest Health Study, prior Golf Club Master Plans, and golf publications and reviews highlighting the prominent role of trees in the beauty, architecture, and reputation of our golf course.
Current RSF residents are the beneficiaries of past generations who planted trees on our golf course and its adjacent trail. Now our Board must ensure that future generations can enjoy beautiful, healthy, and functional golf course trees because of their efforts.