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Mayor Wu Signs Public Tree Protection Ordinance, Advancing Urban Forest Plan

Mayor Michelle Wu signed a public tree protection ordinance on a key recommendation stemming from the City's Urban Forest Plan.

The Urban Forest Plan, released in September 2022, outlines strategies to preserve, cultivate, and expand the city's urban forest. A tree protection ordinance is a critical action item in preserving existing canopy cover. Mayor Wu's enactment of the public tree protection ordinance underscores the City's dedication to environmental justice, public health, and community resiliency. The City Council passed the ordinance on December 13, 2023. The ordinance goes into effect 90 days from the date of the Mayor's signature, March 28, 2024.

"The signing of the public tree protection ordinance is a testament to our shared goal of building a city that prioritizes environmental stewardship and community well-being,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “In taking this step, we're not only preserving our urban forest but also shaping a brighter, more sustainable future for all residents."

The Urban Forest Plan recommended changes in municipal code to protect mature trees and enhance the urban forest. By adopting a phased approach to tree protection regulations, focusing on public trees first, the City aims to lead by example before engaging with the community to extend regulations to trees on private property.

"As the department responsible for managing the implementation of the Urban Forest Plan, we recognize the importance of addressing trees on both publicly- and privately-owned land," said Commissioner Ryan Woods of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. "Fostering a thriving urban forest that reflects the diverse needs of all stakeholders is a top priority."

The recently signed ordinance establishes comprehensive regulations to preserve trees on City-owned parks, school grounds, libraries, and public housing, aligning with Boston's commitment to protecting and enhancing green infrastructure. Construction projects on City-owned land will now require a survey of all trees on the site with a trunk three inches in diameter or wider. Furthermore, healthy trees can only be trimmed or removed with adequate notice and a public hearing, ensuring community involvement in decisions impacting the urban forest.

The new ordinance will also improve the management of public street trees in Boston. It expands and clarifies the rules for the removal of healthy street trees, ensuring that they are replaced with trees of equivalent size and species in the same neighborhood. The City's Tree Warden will be responsible for replacements, advancing the Urban Forest Plan's objective of achieving equitable distribution of tree canopy. Closing the tree canopy gap among neighborhoods is crucial for mitigating the impact of urban heat islands, improving air quality for all residents, and accelerating the Green New Deal for Boston.

"Healthy trees play an important role in enhancing the health and quality of life of residents in Boston, as the City deals with climate change, more frequent heat waves, and extreme weather events," said Councilor Liz Breadon, a co-sponsor of the ordinance. "This ordinance will protect existing trees, create more public awareness of the benefits of healthy trees, and help support urban forests in our diverse neighborhoods."

Since the September 2022 release of the Urban Forest Plan, the Urban Forestry Division has implemented several recommended action items. In 2023, the division expanded its workforce, responded to over 7,500 requests through the 311 system, pruned close to 3,000 trees, treated 1,165 ash trees to protect them against the invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetle, and secured an $11.4 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry program. In the coming year, the division will leverage funding and staffing investments to reduce response time for constituent requests, redouble maintenance efforts to preserve existing canopy, and expand tree planting efforts by partnering with community-based organizations.

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