By Timothy P. Murray and James P. McGovern
Worcester, MA (January 14, 2009)- Favorite trees that have stood for decades in yards and along sidewalks are being taken, and with them part of the fabric of the neighborhoods will be lost. As the chainsaws and wood chippers scream across the Greendale and Burncoat sections of the city, the magnitude of the Asian longhorned beetle infestation is becoming painfully clear. The current federal recommendation is to remove 20,000 trees in those neighborhoods and surrounding towns, effectively clear-cutting large swaths of our urban forest.
Streets that for generations were sheltered by a mature green canopy are being stripped bare. Favorite trees that have stood for decades in yards and along sidewalks are being taken, and with them part of the fabric of the neighborhoods will be lost. The tree damage done by the recent ice storm will pale in comparison.
We understand the problem, and we accept the need to act to protect the great hardwood forests of the Northeast. While we must continue to monitor the infestation and make sure the tree-cutting plan is reasonable, that is not enough. Now is the time to mobilize for what must happen when the chainsaws fall silent and the trees are gone. And that, we believe, is an aggressive reforestation program that will restore, for future generations, the green streetscapes of Worcester and the affected towns.
Government can’t do this alone. These are difficult economic times. Government budgets at all levels are tight and will get tighter. Cities and towns are struggling just to maintain basic public services and don’t have the resources the reforestation will require.
That’s why we believe this crisis requires a community-wide response. It is up to all of us: residents, business owners large and small, elected officials and leaders of the many non-profit institutions in our community to step up and come together in a new spirit of environmental stewardship to restore our urban forest.
In her important book “Trees at Risk, Reclaiming an Urban Forest” (Chandler House Press 2001) Worcester author Evelyn Herwitz documents the history of Worcester’s urban forest, its contribution to the quality of life in our city, and how community leaders in years past rallied to the cause of planting trees to enhance the city’s environment.
The first great reforestation effort came in the middle of the 19th century, as civic leaders planted thousands of trees to mitigate the impact of the Industrial Revolution. Others followed in the 20th century as the community mobilized to replace thousands of trees lost to Dutch Elm disease and to the devastating hurricane of 1938 and tornado of 1953.
For most of our lives, we have enjoyed a city of mature trees because of the foresight and commitment of those previous generations. Now it’s our turn to make sure our community stays green – and our work must not be confined to the Burncoat and Greendale neighborhoods or the bordering towns.
Long before we ever heard of the Asian longhorned beetle, public trees all across Worcester were in crisis. Herwitz’s research found that over the past 30 to 40 years, Worcester lost nearly half of its publicly owned trees, and the decline was accelerating.
Can you imagine this community without tree-lined streets, small neighborhood parks, or large wooded public spaces like Elm Park, Green Hill Park, Nick’s Woods or Broad Meadow Brook? Neither can we. But that’s what we face if we sit back and do nothing.
If there is a glimmer of a silver lining to the beetle infestation, it is a renewed focus on the plight of our urban forest. Now, it’s up to all of us to plant the seeds that will blossom in future generations, so that our children and grandchildren will live in a place filled with healthy trees and all the benefits they provide.
As a first step, we will convene a public meeting in the coming weeks to engage the community in this discussion, propose a framework for the reforestation effort and set into motion a plan to meet this challenge.
We imagine a community-based effort that works closely with federal, state and municipal officials and reaches from grammar schools to college classrooms, from corporate boardrooms to coffee shops, and to the front doors and porches of homes in every neighborhood of the city and affected towns.
We challenge the community to commit itself to planting 30,000 trees over the next five years. Admittedly, it’s a lofty goal, but the good news is that the people of Worcester have faced similar challenges before, and have risen to the occasion. Now, the obligation is ours, and we must do our part.
Timothy P. Murray is lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. James P. McGovern is U.S. Representative for the 3rd Massachusetts District.
Worcester Telegram- It’s our turn to keep Worcester green with tree-planting plan
Worcester Telegram and Gazette- City reforestation planned
Asian Beetle Spells Death for Maples So Dear
Asian Longhorned Beetles Invade Massachusetts