Give Tree Foreman Craig Casterella a Bough

Craig Casterella got his first taste of trees and grounds maintenance at the age of 4. That’s when his father started bringing him along to work at a golf course in Purchase where he was the grounds superintendent.

Published July 19, 2012 4:16 PM
5 min read


A8ForemanCraig Casterella got his first taste of trees and grounds maintenance at the age of 4. That’s when his father started bringing him along to work at a golf course in Purchase where he was the grounds superintendent.

By Bill Lawyer


A8ForemanCraig Casterella got his first taste of trees and grounds maintenance at the age of 4. That’s when his father started bringing him along to work at a golf course in Purchase where he was the grounds superintendent.


One of a set of triplets, he was born and raised in Mamaroneck, where he still lives – and serves as Volunteer Fire Chief of Mamaroneck Village.


He started work for the City of Rye in 1983, and, after performing a variety of duties within the DPW, he became the Tree Foreman in 2006.


While Casterella is generally known as Tree Foreman, his actual title is Trees and Parks Foreman. Along with his various city and right-of-way street tree duties, he also is responsible for supervising the care and maintenance of the city’s parklets, cul-de-sacs, cemeteries, the Village Green, City Hall, areas around the City’s sanitary pump stations, and areas outside the Disbrow Park playing fields. His county civil service-defined job description doesn’t do justice to the scope of his duties.


Of the Public Works staff of over 50 employees, six to eight are assigned to tree and parks duties, and more are added during busy times. Casterella says that over 90% percent of his time is devoted to tree-related issues, as the parks work needs little direct supervision. “They know what to do,” he adds.


Casterella also says that, unlike some villages in Westchester, Rye’s DPW staff does not “outsource” any of their regular work. Only in case of severe, tree damaging storms might they bring in outside companies.


The DPW’s 2011 annual report contains a chart showing that over the past seven years they have removed a total of 1,313 trees, with an average of 188 per year. The highest was 268 in 2009 and only 255 were planted.


a8craigcasterellaCasterella’s staff works closely with Con Ed, phone, and cable companies to handle storm damage issues. The DPW tree crew’s primary task is to clear the public streets so that emergency vehicles can get to the scene.


Even on calm days, trees can come down, as happened July 5 when a large branch from a maple tree at the intersection of Grace Church and Grapal streets snapped and landed on utility lines.


During normal times, Casterella’s day consists of responding to calls and making site visits regarding tree issues or regulations as defined in the City’s tree ordinances – Chapter 187 of the City Code. Since the City has not filled the position of city naturalist, many tree-related responsibilities of that job have been taken over by the tree foreman, including wetland-related tree removal issues.  


Casterella takes his duties very seriously. Shortly after being appointed to his new position, he attended a four-month course to become a New York Certified Tree Steward. He successfully completed the course with a high passing grade and at that time became one of less than 70 such stewards in the state. The course, which is run by the Cornell Cooperative Extension, includes training in all areas of city tree maintenance and management.


Since then Casterella has participated in a variety of city tree workshops and conferences sponsored by the Cooperative Extension.


All this training is so that he can carry out his tasks so as to promote healthy trees and make decisions regarding the pruning or removal of “problem” trees.


In terms of “public trees” — which includes trees “within the limits of any public street, right of way, park or other public space” — he must approve the species and quality of any trees planted. He is also responsible for determining if any public tree is a hazard, interferes with street use, or “detract from the beauty and appearance of the street.” If so, he can have it pruned or removed.  


Thanks to his training and on the job experiences, Casterella has developed a good ability to know how to accurately examine trees for potential pruning or removal.


He must give the “OK” to any private individual or city employee who wants to treat a public tree. And, he must approve any tree trimming or removal by utility companies.


The tree foreman also determines whether trees on private property can be removed or planted – but under present ordinances only for trees more than eight inches in diameter 54 inches from the base in a “required” yard adjoining public property, or any tree in an historic district.


The definition of how far the adjoining “required yard” requires a permit is based on zoning regulations.


There is a permit process required for determining whether trees in such circumstances can be removed. Application forms are available from the DPW. The current form deals with three categories: planting a tree on a public property; treating public trees; and, removal of tree in a required yard adjoining public property or in a historic district.


There are three grounds for removal – it causes hardship or danger; it is diseased or threatens health of other trees; or, it “substantially interferes with a permitted use of the property.”


In 2010, 71 applications were submitted. In 2011 the number rose to 97 – an average of eight per month. Some applications include more than one tree, and the current application fee is $25.


Casterella says that he denies about five to seven permit applications per year. Only once in his memory has one of his denials been appealed. It involved a tree which he determined was healthy, but one that the homeowner wanted removed.


The tree ordinance procedure for appeals calls for review by the City’s Board of Architectural Review. According to Casterella, BAR upheld his decision, and “the tree’s still standing.”


Casterella says that in general the people of Rye “follow the program” when it comes to trees. Only rarely, he adds, do people try “sneaky” tactics of removing trees without permission. “And this is usually when property owners hire tree companies from out of the area.”


The tree foreman is empowered to issue stop orders for illegally removed trees and require replacements and fines – as well as deny a tree company permittee status “for a reasonable period of time to ensure future compliance.”


As to the concern that some people have claimed the permit process is too slow, he says that in nearly every case “they can submit their application and have it approved the next day.”


Casterella says he puts great emphasis in working with certified arborists who do much of the tree work in Rye.


The key, he concludes, “is putting the focus on proper maintenance and care,” to minimize the need for removal.


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