part of nattaylor.com

Disclaimer: This content is no longer updated as of October 2021.

A Plan for Boston’s Urban Forest (2014)

Published on

This memo was submitted by the BUFC in 2014 and shared with me by The Trustees.

To:  Brian Swett, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space; 
Chris Cook, Acting Commissioner, Parks and Recreation Department;
CC:  Julie Coop, Urban and Community Forestry Program Coordinator, DCR
Elaine Sudanowicz, Interagency Coordinator, Office of Emergency Preparedness
From:  Jeremy Dick, Boston Natural Areas Network; Linda Ciesielski, Boston Urban Forest Council
Date:  March 12, 2014
Subject: A Plan for Boston’s Urban Forest:  Climate Change Planning, Public Health, and Trees


The Boston Urban Forest Council is a coalition of residents and community organizations advocating for Boston’s trees, convened and staffed by Boston Natural Areas Network. The Council respects the work of city staff now managing the urban forest with limited resources and staff, and seeks to support the City’s efforts by serving as resource for research, collaboration and community feedback. BUFC recently researched exemplary precedents from other cities that could serve as guidance to strengthen and protect Boston’s urban forest, particularly in the face of climate change.

Climate Change, Public Health and Boston’s Trees

Boston has made climate change planning a priority in city policy, as reflected in its recent Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan, and Climate Action Plan now under review, as the impacts will affect the city’s livability, economy, public health and welfare. Investment in Boston’s urban forest will directly strengthen the city’s resiliency to higher temperatures, more frequent and intense storms, and local flooding. Trees moderate the urban heat island effect, absorb stormwater runoff, and large trees have been shown as the most costeffective means to sequester greenhouse gases (Nature, 2014). The protection of Boston’s trees improves air quality, reduces asthma rates, increases real estate values, and reinforces the Walsh administration’s pledge to improve public health and welfare.

Based on the Council’s research, three recommendations for your consideration follow:

  1. Update Boston’s Urban Forestry Management Plan
    • Create a comprehensive strategy to retain and expand canopy coverage in Boston
      • Emphasize creating tree planting conditions that protect or enhance potential tree canopy coverage, rather than focus on number of trees planted [1]
      • Promote tree species diversity to reduce vulnerability to disease and invasive insects, through an analysis of existing tree inventory
      • Identify tree-planting locations in Boston and develop a planting schedule
      • Develop a tree maintenance program and schedule to support young, recently planted trees, and achieve a routine pruning cycle for all trees
      • Increase staff capacity to support management plan: additional tree wardens, arborists, maintenance crew, planting crew, public communications and outreach staff
      • Use management plan as a framework for tree protection and policy reform
  2. Elevate Urban Forestry in the Office of Environment, Energy and Open Space
    • Designate urban forestry a multi-departmental activity and create linkages across other departments, including Boston Public Works Department, Boston Transportation Department, and Boston Water and Sewer Commission.
      • Increase City environmental review and oversight to include all trees, to enable:
      • Protection of large trees on public and private property, including those in schoolyards, housing developments, on Massachusetts DCR and Mass DOT properties
      • Greater involvement in environmental review of development proposals
      • Integrate forestry with stormwater management planning:
      • Retain and plant trees to control stormwater and reduce costly investments in conventional sewerage lines, as part of sewer and watershed protection, as done in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon [2]
  3. Implement Tree Policy Reform
    • Adopt ordinances to protect Large trees and recognize Heritage trees:
      • Preserving large trees is the most cost-effective way to sequester greenhouse gases (Nature 2014). Large-canopy trees provide greater environmental services than small trees by a factor of 15. Small trees do not add significant environmental performance until they reach 30 feet (Center for Urban Forest Research)
      • Create incentives for public to honor and recognize large trees in their neighborhood
      • Large Tree ordinance precedents: Washington D.C.’s Urban Forest Preservation Act protects public and private property trees over 18” diameter at breast height (DBH); San Francisco protects Significant and Landmark trees – those measuring 12” DBH or wider within 10 feet of public right-of-way, and all trees over 25” DBH; Portland, Oregon requires removal permit for trees over 20” DBH, including on private property [3]
    • Enhance environmental review for proposed development, road construction, and parks facilities based on:
      • City’s canopy coverage goals and losses4
      • Tree valuation calculations: calculate benefits of existing and new tree plantings, assessing the value of replacement trees at full maturity, as in Washington D.C. [5]
      • Neighborhood overlay districts for tree removals in front and backyards, already in place in Boston’s historic districts
      • Tree root impacts and protection zones. Austin, Texas’ Critical Root Zone Program, requires minimum of 50% of root zone be left undisturbed by construction6
    • Utilize zoning ordinances to protect trees and incentivize preservation on residential, commercial, industrial properties, and in all new parking lots.
      • Seattle’s Green Factor Zoning is aimed at tree conservation through incentives, and penalizes unpermitted tree removals by refusing building permits for 5 years, even with a change in property ownership [7]
      • Washington D.C. Tree and Slope Protection Overlay District protects all large trees over 24” DBH from removal unless dead or diseased; prohibits removal of more than 25% of a property’s total trees measuring 12” DBH or wider; limits tree removals within 25 feet of public right-of-way
    • Improve public communications on tree hearings and tree requests:
      • Add tree removal hearing notices to Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services notifications
      • Expand Citizen’s Connect interface to facilitate and expedite street tree requests
    • Reform tree replacement values, ratios and fines:
      • Establish replacement values based on caliper size of removed trees, rather than 1 tree for 1 tree replacement ratio. [8] Precedent replacement values from San Jose, California; Portland, Oregon; and Toronto, Canada, increase from 2:1 for trees over 6” DBH to 5:1 for trees over 18” and 10:1 for trees over 30” DBH; also mandates new tree planting conditions enable trees to reach mature size
      • Where replacement space is limited, developer pays fine to city tree fund used for planting and maintenance of tree for two years on identified public property

The adoption of tree policy reform, an updated urban forestry management plan, and increased urban forestry jurisdiction, will allow Boston’s trees and environment to flourish. The Boston Urban Forest Council strongly encourages the Walsh administration to support Boston’s canopy, its natural resiliency to climate change, and the benefits it provides to the overall health and welfare.

The Council welcomes the opportunity to work with the administration to improve Boston’s urban forest, and serve as a resource for collaboration and community feedback. You are welcome to join our monthly meetings which meet from 6:00-7:00 p.m. at BNAN. Attached please find appended research notes.

Submitted on behalf of members of the Boston Urban Forest Council: Sarah Freeman and the Arborway Coalition; Marie Fukuda and the Board of the Fenway Civic Association; Alison Pultinas, McLaughlin Stewards; West Broadway Neighborhood Association South Boston; Susan Labandibar and Michael Green, Climate Action Liaison Coalition; Judy Kolligan and Mike Prokosch, and the Board of the Boston Climate Action Network; Lisa Meaders, Beacon Hill resident; Galen Gilbert, East Boston resident; Claire Corcoran, South End resident; Friends of the Muddy River, Inc.; Southie Trees; South Boston Neighborhood Development Corporation

Research Endnotes

  1. Improve tree planting and growing conditions:
    • Implement new tree planting standards: require minimum soil volumes; utilize structural soil; enlarge tree pits; take steps to reduce soil compaction; install permeable pavement to allow water to reach tree roots. See New York City; Toronto, Ontario; Ithaca, NY.
    • Where limited space to plant or retain trees, build bulb-outs into street to create pedestrian passage or room for new trees.
  2. Trees as integral component of stormwater management and watershed protection programs:
    • Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Green Streets Stormwater Management Plan
    • Philadelphia’s Water Department Green Stormwater Infrastructure Tools
    • Portland, Oregon’s Grey to Green sewer program planted 32,000 new street and yard trees in 5 years, installed 870 new green street facilities.
  3. Ordinances to protect Large trees and Heritage trees:
    • Washington D.C. Urban Forest Preservation Act (2002)
    • San Francisco Urban Forestry Ordinance protects Significant and Landmark Trees
    • Austin, TX protects public and private trees over 19” DBH;
    • Atlanta, GA requires permit for removal of public and private trees over 6” DBH;
    • Tampa, Florida, requires permit for removal of public and private trees over 5” DBH;
    • Portland, OR: removal over 20” DBH requires permit, including on private property;
    • Seattle, WA protects trees through Green Factor Zoning.
  4. Boston’s canopy coverage goals have no connection to environmental review of new development or construction projects.
  5. Tree Valuation Calculations:
    • Washington, D.C. valuation of trees in environmental review process, considers benefits of new tree plantings when they are mature, not at original planting date.
    • i-Tree a free program created by USDA and Forest Service used by many cities to quantify environmental services of trees, for entire city or small sample.
  6. Protection tree roots from construction disturbance:
    • Austin, Texas: Critical Root Zone (CRZ) Program CRZ circles are superimposed on proposed plans for review staff to discern extent of disturbance to existing trees.
  7. Zoning as a tool to protect trees:
    • Seattle’s Green Factor Zoning
    • Washington D.C. Tree and Slope Protection Overlay District
  8. Tree replacement values:
    • San Jose, CA, Portland, OR, and Toronto, Canada: replacement ratios increase from a 2 to 1 replacement to 5:1 for trees over 18” and 10:1 for trees over 30” DBH. Where replacement space is limited, developer pays fine to city tree fund used for planting and maintenance of tree for two years on identified public property.

Popular Posts