A new Forestry Division of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department plans to bolster the health and number of trees citywide in an effort to better public health, fight climate change and reduce average heat levels in city neighborhoods, Mayor Michelle Wu said Wednesday morning.
Creating a new division dedicated to maintaining and growing the city’s tree canopy comes as climate change has brought hotter average temperatures to Boston, particularly in neighborhoods like Roxbury, where Wu said temperatures have surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas.
A team of 16 Forestry Division employees will plant new trees and inspect, maintain and prune the city’s 38,000 existing street trees with a focus on under-canopied and environmental justice neighborhoods. A new urban forest plan will guide the division’s work.
“The growth of this team will allow us to take a more proactive approach to maintaining our tree canopy, address the backlog that we know exists of tree-related 311 constituent service requests, and identify areas in Boston that need more coverage,” Wu said. during a press conference at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Jamaica Plain.
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The Forestry Division will include a soon-to-be hired Director of Urban Forestry, three arborists, nine maintenance workers, and a handful of support staff. Neighborhood-specific plans will also be released in the coming months for areas where officials say tree canopy coverage is limited.
The Arnold Arboretum also plans to donate 10 dawn redwood trees — described as “living fossils” because they are descended from ancestors that first grew in North America two million years ago — to be planted in neighborhoods across Boston.
Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s chief of environment, energy, and open space, said officials explored planting the 10 new trees on Malcolm X Boulevard, but rocks prevented them from fitting. Harambee Park on Blue Hill Avenue has work, White-Hammond said.
“We’re trying to get them spread out across the city in the places with our most significant heat, but in places we believe they can survive for 70 years or 100 years,” she said. “We don’t want to put them somewhere, get excited, and then find 20 years from now we didn’t give them a good condition.”
Members of the new Forestry Division will also look to tackle what the urban tree forest plan describes as inequitable tree canopy coverage across the city.
The plan says total canopy coverage is 27%, a number that has remained steady since 2014, a majority of the city’s tree canopy is on private land, and the current urban forest “is vulnerable to threats from climate change, development, disease/pests , lack of care, limited space, and growing conditions.”
“While tree canopy can be grown through proactive care and protection … a significant effort to improve Boston’s urban forest must involve adding more trees throughout the city,” the plan says. “However, this must be done in line with broader citywide goals of equity, resilience, public health and community well-being. It should also ensure the right trees are planted in the right places (ie. with regard to species diversity, climate adaptation, and urban conditions), and spaces are found or created to plant in.”
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Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara said she grew up with the “beauty and inspiration” of Franklin Park, Jamaica Pond and the Arnold Arboretum in her backyard, and the effort to expand the city’s tree canopy “is the access that we deserve all across the city .”
“Climate change and the work of reversing the damage that we’ve done to this planet is all of our responsibility,” she said. “But I don’t think that we can be good stewards of the land if we are not in a deep relationship with it. And what better way to cultivate a deep relationship with the land than making sure that it is visible and accessible to every single neighborhood and every single place in the City of Boston.”
Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok said the council’s “tree caucus” is strong.
“We will be supporting those 16 jobs and their growth and expansion,” she said. “I think this is really something where all governments are able to come together.”