Tree Protections Back to Square One—on the Way to Final Passage

By Sandra Storey / Special to the Gazette

A tree ordinance that would protect Boston’s tree canopy from random tree removal was discussed at the Boston City Council Committee on Government Operations recently. The ordinance was met with the same strong enthusiasm that it did on August 25, 2021. This time it won’t take a year-and-a-half for a tree preservation ordinance to just go back to a committee hearing, according to City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, the original sponsor. At the hearing, Arroyo said, instead of presenting one big ordinance to the City Council, it would be divided into four “buckets” to make it simpler to shepherd it piece by piece through the full council. “We’ll take it gradually,” he said. “We’ll be done in a year,” he promised several times. The current ordinance is the result of several drafts that mostly simplified, reorganized and added details to the 2021 version. A very important process transpired during the gap between the tree protection ordinance hearings: community people worked with experts and officials to create a detailed, illustrated Urban Forest Plan for Boston. They looked at the tree canopy that exists and talked about how to preserve and enlarge it. Trees are extremely important to climate and to peace of mind. Liza Meyer, chief landscape architect of the Parks Department, pointed out that the tree canopy covers 27 percent of the city. Some neighborhoods have more trees than others. And some experienced tree loss between the study period of 2014 to 2019. “Most loss has been on residential land,” she said. No one used the word “controversial” to describe the “bucket” that will hold the regulation of tree removal from privately-owned residential land that’s being developed, but it well may be controversial. Some other cities, when their tree ordinances were created, put a moratorium in place as soon as the regulation was introduced to prevent a rush to cut down trees willy-nilly for development before it went into effect. Sponsors of the ordinance that drew comments for almost four hours in City Hall on March 13 were Councilor Arroyo from Hyde Park, now the chair of that committee, Councilor Liz Breadon of Allston/Brighton, and Councilor Kendra Lara of Jamaica Plain. Other councilors, City administrators and members of the public spoke about the now streamlined ordinance and process for passing it. Remaining bunches of the regulations will be about trees on public land and trees on private land where buildings already exist, as well as the establishment of fines for breaking different tree removal rules. “We are creating opportunities for sister agencies,” Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space for the City, added, referring to all the different City agencies that end up dealing with tree preservation issues in the course of their work. Everyone in attendance at the hearing seemed thrilled when Parks and Recreation Department Commissioner Ryan Woods announced a director of Urban Forestry and three more arborists have been hired to work with Max Ford-Diamond with support and help from the community. Councilors Ed Flynn, Tania Fernandes Anderson, Kendra Bok, Julia Mejia, Ruthzee Louijeune and Gabriela Coletta voiced support for the ordinance. JP’s Councilor Lara said, “It’s past time to have this ordinance” and spoke of the importance of having community involvement with tree maintenance. Sarah Freeman of the Arborway Coalition in JP, too, said, “We’ve been waiting a long time” for the tree protection regulations. She said the department of health and hospitals in Louisville mobilized recently when the tree canopy went down to 37 percent. “We need to do more education,” she said. This is the fifth column I’ve done in eight years on the topic of preserving our trees—especially our mature ones. I got so many calls when I was editor of the Gazette from unhappy people watching and/or listening to neighborhood trees being hacked down. They usually didn’t start crying or swearing until I had to tell them there was nothing they or the City could do about it without regulations. Sandy Storey is the Publisher Emieritus of the Jamaica Plain Gazette

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