My favorite thing about Lynchburg always has been its trees, particularly in spring, when cherries and redbuds are in bloom.

So it was bittersweet to learn that the man most responsible for this beauty is leaving his post today as Lynchburg’s urban forester.

Klaus Schreiber started work 22 years ago as the city’s first ISA-certified arborist.

The Hill City was already an Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA, now in its 36th year, behind only Falls Church and Virginia Beach in the state.

When Klaus came on board, however, he soon realized the city needed to be responsible for planting its street trees.

In 1997, contractors were doing the job, and the mortality rate was way too high. They had planted mostly red maples, which are cheap and grow rapidly, bumping into electrical lines overhead.

With the help of dedicated ground crews in the city’s Public Works Department and the volunteer Lynchburg Tree Stewards, Klaus changed the city streetscape.

Klaus said he is most proud of the fact that the mortality rate now stands at about 6%.

Trees are planted in the right place for their size, and city crews regularly water them the first year, the most critical time for a tree to get established.

The Lynchburg Tree Stewards prune trees while they are young, a process Klaus compares to raising dogs. If the puppy isn’t trained, he will become an uncontrollable monster.

If a tree isn’t pruned properly, it will not have good structure. Trees with co-dominant stems will readily break apart. Branches that grow too low over sidewalks and streets will be damaged or do damage if they get too large.

The Tree Stewards do most of the pruning during a tree’s first five years because the city doesn’t have enough employees to keep up, Klaus said.

Klaus’ second point of pride is the way the city has changed its variety of trees. While maples are still most numerous, cherries have climbed into a healthy second place, followed by oaks and dogwoods.

Klaus has planted low-growing varieties under power lines and has been replacing callery pears, also known as Bradford pears, which break easily and are now considered invasive.

In the past 22 years, city crews and Tree Stewards have planted an average of 200 trees per year, or 4,400 trees. At this point, there are very few vacant spots in city rights-of-way.

Klaus is grateful that City Council has always supported the tree care budget and feels confident his successor will receive the same support. 

“Klaus has transformed the city’s urban forest canopy through a strong, well-organized maintenance and tree replacement program,” said Gaynelle Hart, director of Public Works. “He has cultivated and worked alongside a dedicated group of volunteers, the Tree Stewards, that love trees as much as he does.” 

He also led the cleanup efforts for two major windstorms — the 2012 derecho and the April 15, 2018, tornado. 

“It will be nearly impossible to fill his shoes, but we intend to try,” Hart said.

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