Boston Struggles with Goal to Plant 100,000 Trees

Boston, MA (July 8, 2012) – The Boston Globe reports that the city of Boston’s efforts to reach a goal, set five years ago, of planting 100,000 trees by the end of this decade are being stymied by a tough environment for the trees, and a funding slump in 2007 at the peak of the economic recession.  Only about 10% of the promised trees have been planted so far. And those already in the ground have fallen victim to heavy storms, disease, and the regular urban onslaught of pollution, road salt, acidic soil, and reckless driving, among other perils.

Many of the stately trees that frame Copley Square once again look to be near death, their leaves dry, brown, and crinkly less than a month after they replaced a previous grove of London planes that had been consumed by a lethal fungus.

If they have to be uprooted again, it would be the third time in about a decade, reflecting the challenges Boston faces as it tries to expand its urban tree cover.

“It’s a tough environment,” said Antonia M. Pollak, commissioner of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. “Our trees take a lot of abuse.”

Five years ago, city officials set a goal of planting 100,000 trees by the end of this decade, but they have fallen behind and are struggling just to keep pace with the high mortality rate of trees that have fallen victim to heavy storms, disease, and the regular urban onslaught of pollution, road salt, acidic soil, and reckless driving, among other perils.

The city and supporting groups have planted only about 10 percent of the promised trees. “We certainly hoped to be at a greater level than we are now, at least twice what we’ve done,” Pollak said. “It’s going to take a lot of people to make this work.”

A study this year by ­researchers at the US Forest Service found that Boston experienced a net loss of nearly 1 percent of its roughly 1.2 million trees between 2003 and 2008. Some 4 million trees a year are disappearing from ­urban areas across the United States, they estimate.

At the same time, the amount of roads, sidewalks, and other impermeable surfaces in the city increased by nearly 2 percent, reducing the space available to plant trees, according to the study published in February in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.

The researchers estimated that Boston has roughly 28 percent of its land area covered by trees, significantly less than other urban areas in the state and the nation. On average, ­urban areas in Massachusetts have about 65 percent of their land covered by trees, they said; nationally, the figure is 35 percent.

“The more trees, the more benefits, which include reduced air pollution, air temperatures, ultraviolet radiation, and energy use in some cases,” said David J. Nowak, a research forester at the US Forest Service and an author of the study. “There’s also improved air quality, water quality, more wildlife habitat and diversity, and general benefits to psychology.”

The campaign to expand Boston’s tree canopy has languished since it began in 2007, as the recession brought deep cuts to budgets for trees and parks. Donations by companies and foundations fizzled, and homeowners and volunteers have had more pressing ­demands for their money and time.

City officials have since planted an average of about 500 trees a year, at a cost of between $600 and $900 for each tree, which includes the cost of removing dead trees or stumps. They hope to expand the city’s tree canopy to cover 35 percent of the city by 2020.

Businesses, homeowners, and nonprofit organizations have planted thousands of ­additional trees, but officials had expected that many more would have been growing by now in large development projects stalled by the slow economy, such as Harvard University’s expansion into Allston and the transformation of the ­Seaport District and Herald Square into more residential neighborhoods.

Related Resources
“Boston Struggles with Goal to Plant 100,000 Trees,” The Boston Globe
Boston Natural Areas Network
Canopy Campaigns and Public Tree Goals
Million Trees Growth Depends on Future Volunteers