No law protects any trees on private property

The article “Symbolic tree felled” in the June 22 issue of the JP Gazette exposed a vexing problem: Without some sort of tree ordinance, as many cities already have, developers and property-owners can chop down Boston’s leafy heritage willy-nilly.

Here we had a magnificent 60-80 year-old American elm (the state tree of Massachusetts) that survived the ravages of elm disease and was prized for its rare resistance, situated in front of a brand-new affordable housing unit. In fact, back when the community development corporation itself wanted to fell the tree (an intention later thwarted), local arborists expressed the hope that cuttings could be taken to propagate this healthy specimen.

That was not to be, because without notice to the city or to the neighbors who fought hard to rescue the noble survivor, the chainsaws arrived at 7:30 a.m. and into the chipper it went.

Mayor Thomas Menino has often expressed his desire to make Boston a more tree-populated city. Commendable though it may be to plant new trees, saving the current canopy might be a better priority. Indeed, without some sort of law any new trees would be subject to the usual depredations, ad infinitum.

What form should such a law take? Monetary sanctions post-felling, while all well and good, would not save the trees. One needs a sort of tag-the-tree ordinance, a city-wide identification of hands-off “champion trees” about which any new property owner must be informed through disclosure by the seller. One must also have a solid permitting process for demolishing such trees, perhaps administered under the Tree Warden, currently an obscure office whose role in preservation has been minimal.

Back to the symbolic fallen elm: The neighborhood, the near-barren Jefferson Field just across the street and all of Jamaica Plain are much the poorer for its loss.

Clark Johnsen
Jamaica Plain

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