Today, Mayor Michelle Wu announced efforts to bolster the City of Boston’s tree canopy to enhance livability and public health throughout Boston’s neighborhoods. As part of today’s announcement, Mayor Wu is launching a new Forestry Division within the Boston Parks and Recreation Department (BPRD) to expand Boston’s ability to maintain existing and plant new trees. The Forestry Division will grow the City’s tree-related workforce from 5 to 16, with dedicated leadership and resources to plant new trees as well as proactively inspect, maintain, and prune existing trees, focusing on under-canopied and environmental justice neighborhoods. This intentional focus on Boston’s trees follows the recommendations of Boston’s newly-released Urban Forest Plan (UFP), an assessment of Boston’s urban forest with recommendations to improve the way trees are cared for and ensure the urban forest is available to the entire community.
Mayor Wu made the announcement today at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, a nonprofit partner that has gifted the City of Boston 10 dawn redwood trees – descended from the first such trees to grow in North America in over two million years, known as “living fossils” – to be planted in neighborhoods across Boston.
“Trees are our best green technology to fight climate change and build healthy, beautiful communities, especially as heat and storms intensify,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “Dedicating staff and resources to our new Forestry Division will empower the City of Boston to strengthen our tree canopy citywide so every community benefits from these treasured resources. I’m especially grateful for the partnership with the Arboretum in sharing the wonder of dawn redwoods citywide as a connection to our legacy of research, discovery, and global collaboration here in Boston.”
“Boston’s trees beautify our communities, create oxygen, and mitigate the urban heat island effect while cleaning pollution from our air,” said Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space. “We know that Boston’s history of disinvestment has led to inequitable access to trees. I am thrilled that the City’s new Forestry Division will take proactive steps to correct these inequities by planting and protecting trees and creating good, green jobs.”
“Our new tree division will significantly expand the City’s capacity to plant and care for trees in every neighborhood,” said Ryan Woods, Boston Parks and Recreation Department Commissioner. “We are committed to increasing the survival rate of our new plantings and supporting the growth and maturation of trees across Boston, particularly in communities that need more canopy.”
The Forestry Division will include a Director of Urban Forestry, which is currently accepting applications, three arborists, three 3-person maintenance crews, and several support staff. The larger workforce will complement new investments in the City’s FY23 Operating and Capital Budget, totalling about $5.9 million. Increased staffing will empower the Parks and Recreation Department to respond more quickly to tree maintenance requests submitted by residents through 311, clearing the maintenance backlog, decreasing tree mortality, and focusing resources on under-canopied neighborhoods.
The creation of the Forestry Division executes on the first recommendation of the newly-released Urban Forest Plan, a product of years-long, extensive engagement driven by a Community Advisory Board. The Urban Forest Plan outlines seven major strategies for tree canopy management citywide:
- Engaging in comprehensive, progressive, and proactive urban forestry work across City departments.
- Conducting proactive care and protection for existing trees across public and private land, involving a cyclical care program, and a well-defined risk management approach.
- Expanding the tree canopy in line with broader citywide goals of equity, resilience, public health, and community well-being.
- Creating solutions to make space for trees in Boston, as well as improving the quality of planting sites to allow trees to thrive.
- Improving communication between the multiple City departments, agencies, non-governmental organizations, and citizen groups that plant and care for trees within Boston.
- Improving access to neighborhood tree data to give local groups the tools to make decisions and improvements for their own communities.
- Utilizing and developing local talent to grow workforce opportunities in alignment with fulfilling the goals of this urban forest plan.
“As a member of the Urban Forest Plan’s Equity Council, I was part of a group of community members who focused on creating a healthy environment for residents through equitable conservation and expansion of Boston’s tree canopy,” said Dr. Atyia Martin, Executive Director of Next Leadership Development and Board Chair for Speak for the Trees. “The UFP was created with a community-inspired approach to equity that is headed in the right direction on the highway of justice. I would like to thank the Wu administration for facilitating this process and I am looking forward to their continued swift action to carry out the community’s recommendations.”
The UFP also includes neighborhood-specific strategies for tree planting, preservation, and care. Each neighborhood plan includes local information on canopy and land use trends, priority planting zones, and existing physical and environmental conditions. The new Forestry Division will use these neighborhood plans to develop specific planting and maintenance programs across Boston’s neighborhoods.
These new investments in tree canopy create an opportunity to support biodiversity by planting a variety of tree species throughout our communities. The new Forestry Division will be charged with ensuring that a variety of trees are planted in strategic locations that support species diversity, while increasing resilience to climate change and urban conditions.
Today’s announcement also recommits to growing the City’s forestry workforce. The new positions within the Forestry Division include opportunities for individuals who will soon graduate from PowerCorpsBOS, a City workforce development program that launched in the spring for youth aged 18 to 30 years old, funded with $9 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Earlier this week, PowerCorpBOS began training students in several aspects of the tree industry, including tree physiology, soil science, and how trees heal from cuts and breaks. Students will be working with Boston Housing Authority and UMass Mount Ida Campus to learn valuable skills to protect trees, including pruning, felling, limbing, and bucking.
Tree canopy is a critical part of Boston’s city infrastructure. A thriving urban forest reduces heat levels while removing pollutants from the air. It also supports water quality and reduces the impact of flooding by intercepting large quantities of stormwater during and after rain to reduce flooding. A 2020 study, which was included in the City’s Heat Resilience Solutions for Boston report, examined more than 100 cities across the United States and found that redlined neighborhoods are on average 5°F hotter in the summer than areas that weren’t redlined. These neighborhoods, which are predominantly lower-income, are found to have fewer trees and parks and more dark pavement.
The ten Metasequoia glyptostroboides trees – or dawn redwoods – gifted to the City of Boston by the Arnold Arboretum are among the first of its kind to grow in North America in over two million years. Thought to be extinct for millions of years, in the early 1940s, Zhan Wang and Hsen Hsu Hu took samples from a stand of trees in the Hubei Province of central China and showed that Metasequoia were alive and well. Elmer Merrill, director of the Arnold Arboretum from 1936 to 1946, funded a collecting trip to China to bring seed to Boston. Since the first addition in 1948, the Arboretum has shared seeds with 600 other botanical institutions throughout the world. Dawn redwoods have been memorialized in the Arnold Arboretum’s logo since 1995, symbolizing the nonprofit institution’s commitment to international conservation, education and research.
“Dawn redwoods symbolize so much about the Arnold Arboretum, including our deep love of biodiversity, particularly the trees and other woody plants of Asia,” said Ned Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University. “Like Boston, which is home to peoples of the world, the Arnold Arboretum is home to plants of the world. Long thought to be extinct, when this species was discovered alive and well in Hubei, the Arnold was the first institution to receive its seeds – which speaks volumes about our deep relationships with botanical colleagues in China. The Arnold Arboretum is thrilled to offer these special trees to be planted throughout the City of Boston.”
The Urban Forest Plan is a key component of the City’s Healthy Places Initiative, which is focused on increasing open space, cooling our neighborhoods, and protecting Bostonians from the impacts of climate change. Healthy Places is a collaboration of three City plans including the Urban Forest Plan, Heat Resilience Solutions for Boston, and the seven year update to the City’s Open Space and Recreation Plan which will be released publicly next year. The UFP is a key component of Climate Ready Boston, the City’s initiative to prepare for the near- and long-term effects of climate change, like sea level rise, coastal storms, extreme precipitation, and extreme heat.