'VICTORY TREES' LOSING BATTLE AGAINST TIME; as Post-WWII Oak Trees Die out, the City Is Preparing to Lose Many Leafy Pieces of Area Charm and History

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Byline: STEVE PATTERSON and COURTNEY LAMBERT

Soon after World War II, a sea of oaks spread across Jacksonville's neighborhoods.

"Victory trees" handed out by a utility shaded sidewalks and yards from Avondale to Springfield and San Marco.

Now, those trees are dying of old age.

"They turned out to be water oaks or laurel oaks," said Anna Dooley, executive director for Greenscape of Jacksonville, a beautification group. "They have about a 60-year lifespan, which is where we are."

A generation of plantings from the beginnings of post-war suburbs in Arlington, the Northside and Southside are expected to follow suit.

"In the next 10 years, I would expect realistically to lose 25 to 35 percent of our canopy just to age," said Roy Sanderford, sales manager for Warming Tree Services Inc. in Jacksonville. "They're all coming to that age."

That realization is triggering preparation efforts to replace trees that are part of neighborhood identity as much as front porches and six-sided paving stones.

There's more than aesthetics at stake, though.

The conservation group American Forests estimated in 2005 that Jacksonville's trees did as much to hold and clean polluted rainwater headed to the St. Johns River as building a drainage and stormwater management system that would cost almost $1.9 billion.

They also filter air pollution, including carbon monoxide and ozone, the report said.

TREE ADVOCATE URGES CAUTION

Jacksonville could use help on both fronts.

The city joined other local governments in signing a St. Johns cleanup plan in 2008 calling for more than $600 million worth of clean-water projects. And last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new national ozone standards that Duval County is expected to fail, which means finding new ways to clean the air.

There's no need for drastic measures like felling healthy trees, said Margaret Tocknell, who chairs a tree committee for Riverside Avondale Preservation, the main civic voice for the historic district.

But knowing when a big tree is dying allows a chance for it to be taken down safely, she said, and people in older neighborhoods should watch for signs their trees are failing.

Trees losing their leaves on top or with many dying branches are clear signs of trouble, as are large, wart-like growths on the trunk that mark a diseased area.

Because they have shallow roots and long, heavy branches, water oaks and laurel oaks are particularly prone to being blown down in high wind. In a dying tree, decay and rot can spread and weaken branches, increasing the risk to nearby homes and cars unless the tree is pruned or removed entirely.

Package offers for contractors to install new trees, ranging from 8 to 14 feet tall when planted, have circulated during the past couple of years to homeowners in Riverside and San Marco. …