JP Observer: Tree removal needs regulation

In what is just the latest in several tree massacres in Jamaica Plain in the past decade, the MBTA cleared the proposed Southwest Corridor Park Greenway Extension near Washington Street of most of its trees last month without informing or getting input from neighbors or groups.

Wholesale chopping down of trees on private and public land without any prior review or permitting process needs to be stopped.

At least once a year, it seems, JP neighbors express dismay when trees are suddenly cut down nearby. They are doubly shocked when they learn that the way the system works now, there is nothing they or government can say or do about most tree removal.

In recent years, hundreds of trees have been cut down in or near residential areas of Central JP, South Street, Stonybrook, Forest Hills and Pondside, to name a few. A beautiful, large cherry tree was removed in Brookside to build a single-family house in the “side yard.”

The City of Boston strictly regulates and has a complex process regarding removal of street trees. Why? “Trees contribute to the well being of our communities.” On its website, the City says that trees moderate temperature, filter air pollutants, store storm water and provide wildlife habitat.

The website could add that trees are visually pleasing and provide shade and privacy. The fact that nearby trees generally increase property values should be enough reason, especially for developers, to try to preserve them.

It’s possible in many cases to avoid cutting down trees. Builders and others can use designs and equipment to work around them. The Southwest Corridor was carefully constructed in the 1980s so as not to remove trees. The large tree on a rise between Green and Stony Brook T Stations has been there more than 50 years.

Joni Mitchell first sang, “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot” in 1970. Awareness of the need to keep trees is high, but surprisingly little has been done in supposedly environmentally conscious Boston to prevent the song’s dire predictions from coming true. Public and institutional green spaces are fast becoming the “tree museums” the lyrics describe.

Many other cities and states have regulations limiting tree removal. Often, as in California, oaks are protected. In Sacramento, removing old trees designated as “heritage trees” is regulated. In Atlanta, cutting down any hardwood tree with a diameter of 6 inches or more requires a permit. For pine trees, it’s 12 inches.

A case can also be made for preserving “groves” of trees, even if their trunks are slender. Some people advocate that developers keep a percentage of trees if there is no way to build on the property without removing some.

The tree ordinance in Atlanta is “trying to protect the population of trees and keep it from downsizing,” according to

Boston needs to do the same. We have extremely strict rules about street tree removal. Now the community and officials need to get serious and craft workable processes and regulations to better protect trees on all public and private property.

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