Trees’ Best Friend THE CITY’S CHIEF ARBORIST GRIEVES WHEN EVEN ONE IS LOST
acramentans have long boasted about living in “the city of trees.” “Not that long!” says Kevin Hocker, the city’s chief arborist. “The Gold Rush, remember, was only a little more than 150 years ago—a long time for humans but not for trees. That’s when trees first started sprouting around this famous goldmining town.” Sacramento, he explains, was known around the nation as “the city of plains” because of the long, rolling, dreary, seemingly endless horizon of flatness as viewed from what is now known as El Dorado Hills near Placerville. But after the cry of “Gold in them thar hills!” resounded around the world, miners and settlers started planting trees here with a vengeance that literally saved their lives. We’ve all imagined what life would be like in 107-degree heat without air conditioning. Throw a complete lack of trees into an outdoor work environment and you can understand why lifetimes were so brief. Hocker, 39, is an articulate, fiercely dedicated protector of trees both public and private. He and most of his 40 or so fellow associates are certified arborists who work for Urban Forestry, a division of Sacramento’s Public Works Department. They plant, prune, maintain and remove public trees, an endless process.
PA By Peter Anderson
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Kevin Hocker is the city’s chief arborist. He and his staff review predevelopment and landscape plans that will affect public or heritage trees. And they partner with nonprofit organizations like Sacramento Tree Foundation to expand the urban forest and to inform and assist private citizens in the placement, care and nurturing of trees in public places. Dealing with trees in an urban environment is a science. Hocker, a Sonoma County native, earned his arborist certificate at UC Davis, then moved with his wife and daughter to Sacramento. In 2014, he took the job as Urban Forestry’s arborist. A selfdescribed shy person, he is not timid
at all in his relationship with trees. He has an almost mystical, spiritual reverence and respect for his leafy clients and friends. “After all my training and studies,” he says, “I have discovered that the best way to treat trees is to let them flourish and be themselves. They are far more complicated and self-sufficient than we realize, which is why a hands-off policy usually benefits them best. And there is a real mystery about their survival techniques, as well. At Davis, we had two tree scholars lecture us on consecutive days. One of them had studied for 30 years on how air
pulls water out of trees and into the atmosphere—a process called evapotranspiration—and he told us he still can’t grasp the mechanics. The other professor talked about the opposing force: how a chemical pump in the roots draws water upward to bring a tree to its fullest height. He studied this phenomenon for 30 years, as well. Neither scholar had any idea about what happens in the middle of these two opposing forces and in the middle of the trees. They both called it a mystery of nature.