Cemetery tree removal creates controversy

(Gazette Photo by Peter Shanley) An area where trees were cleared in Forest Hills Cemetery along Walk Hill Street.

FOREST HILLS—Some residents are complaining about tree removal taking place at the historic Forest Hills Cemetery. George Milley, CEO of the cemetery, says that the tree-cutting is to remove insect-infected hemlock trees and to produce space for future plots.

“He’s a butcher,” Jamaica Plain resident Richard Heath said about Milley’s decision to remove trees. “He’s a barbarian. He just doesn’t care.”

Milley said some of the tree removal comes down to economics.

“I don’t think people fully understand what we do here,” said Milley. “We’re private. We have no public funding. We have to make decisions on good, sound business standards.”

Forest Hills is a historic garden cemetery founded 1848 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The cemetery, which is located at 95 Forest Hills Ave., has a hilly, park-like atmosphere and has several famous people buried there.

Heath, who recently penned a book on the history of Forest Hills, said the cemetery was built to combine memory and landscape architecture. He said that is the exact opposite of old-time cemeteries like JP’s St. Michael where markers were simply laid out.

“[Milley] just doesn’t think about how Forest Hills is significant and different from other cemeteries. He’s just there to make money,” Heath said.

Heath said there are other ways to introduce new burial plots without clear-cutting trees. He said he use to take walks at the cemetery, but will not go back now.

Another JP resident, who did not wish to be identified, called the removal “heartbreaking.” She called the cemetery a “historical treasure of Boston.”

Milley said the some of the removal was due to the woolly adelgid insect killing hemlock trees and that the changes are part of running a cemetery.

He added that the cemetery must do what’s good for the community, proprietors and grave owners, as well as future proprietors and grave owners.

Milley spoke with the Gazette while giving a tour of the cemetery on Sept. 13. He showed several of the affected areas, including along Walk Hill Street and near the “Garden of Meditation.” Large amounts of trees where cleared in some sections while others left behind the healthy trees.

Milley contrasted the affected areas with past sections where cemetery removed trees and shrubbery and then landscaped.

“It is in our best interest to beautify the landscape,” said Milley.

Asked about the duration of the project, Milley said only the cemetery is always undergoing change and planning for the future.

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