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New Program to Support Tree Canopy Growth and Maintenance on Private Land

The Tree Alliance will increase Boston’s urban tree canopy while advancing a long-term investment in heat and climate resilience.

Mayor Michelle Wu joined Mass Audubon at the Boston Nature Center to announce a new City program to expand tree planting and maintenance on private land. The City has selected Mass Audubon to design and operate a program to support tree canopy growth on private property in Boston. Mass Audubon will serve as the convener of the Tree Alliance, which will include a larger group of non-profits who will collaborate on an annual plan for tree planting, maintenance, and public education activities for  participating groups such as community centers, houses of worship, and non-profit organizations. The Tree Alliance will bolster Boston’s tree canopy to enhance livability and public health throughout Boston’s neighborhoods, with a particular focus on Environmental Justice communities. This program follows the recommendations of Boston’s first Urban Forest Plan (UFP), an assessment of Boston’s urban forest with suggestions to improve the way trees are cared for and ensure the urban forest is available to the entire community. 

Mayor Wu made the announcement during a microforest planting event at the Boston Nature Center, a 67-acre wildlife refuge owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Mattapan. The microforest will transform an unused parking area with a high-density planting to mitigate the urban heat island effect, support biodiversity, and buffer against flooding and erosion. Mass Audubon staff and volunteers, as well as a team of PowerCorpsBOS members, the City’s youth green jobs program, will plant 200 native trees and shrubs and an additional 180 perennial plants at the Boston Nature Center.

“Increasing the number of trees in Boston will enhance our neighborhoods’ livability, health and resilience benefiting both our climate and our residents,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “I’m grateful to our partners at Mass Audubon and Speak for the Trees for their support in bringing and maintaining trees on private land to complement the city’s efforts to have a robust density of trees on our streets, in our parks and across our city-owned properties.” 

Boston’s urban forest includes all of the trees within City boundaries, a portion of which is located on public land, particularly on sidewalks and in public parks. Over 60% of the tree canopy in Boston is privately owned and controlled. The efforts through the City’s new Urban Forestry Division are designed to support trees on public land. In order to make an impact on the whole urban forest, the City’s efforts on public land must be matched by work on private land, requiring collaboration with landowners and other stakeholders. The Tree Alliance partnership will oversee the development and administration of a tree planting and maintenance program for trees on privately-owned land. Mass Audubon is charged with distributing resources to the program participants while developing a long-term tree planting and maintenance program. This collaboration will help to support growth of the urban forest in partnership with landowners and provide public education opportunities to build awareness around tree care and other topics. 

“Having a healthy urban tree canopy is critically important to our environment and quality of life, as trees not only beautify our surroundings, but they also provide many environmental benefits,” said City Council President Flynn. “I applaud the work that the City of Boston and the Tree Alliance will be doing to expand and protect our urban canopies, and I look forward to working with them.”

“I applaud the Administration for their deep commitment to growing and maintaining our City’s tree canopy,” said Councilor Kendra Lara, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Justice, Resiliency, and Parks. “The unified private, nonprofit, and government efforts show that all sectors are critical partners in our efforts toward a more resilient Boston.”

“Trees play a vital role in our communities and are necessary in combating the impacts of climate change,” said Councilor Ricardo Arroyo. “I applaud Mayor Michelle Wu for her leadership and all the stakeholders whose participation in the Tree Alliance will ensure Boston is a leader in access to, and protection of, trees.”

In 2022, the City released the Urban Forest Plan (UFP), to equitably chart the growth of Boston’s urban forest and the Heat Plan to address the impacts of extreme heat driven by climate change. Together, these plans provide an approach to build a safe, healthy, and resilient city for all residents. Maintaining and planting trees in alignment with the UFP is one strategy to support the long-term health and safety of residents, particularly in Boston's Environmental Justice neighborhoods. The data produced by the Heat Plan and the UFP provide a foundation for where tree planting and maintenance efforts are needed to equitably expand tree canopy and address the long-term impacts of extreme heat. To grow a strong urban forest, partnership and coordination across the public agencies, community groups, and private organizations who steward urban trees is critical.

“Boston’s history of disinvestment and redlining has led to inequitable access to trees,” said Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space. “Trees are a crucial component of Boston’s work to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. I am thrilled that the Tree Alliance will support our goals of creating healthy, resilient and beautiful communities.” 

Last September, Mayor Wu launched a new Urban 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 has since hired a Director of Urban Forestry, three new Arborists, an Administrative Assistant, and is still in the process of hiring new field labor crews. The City of Boston’s tree related workforce has expanded from five to 16 positions. 

The concept for a tree planting and maintenance program was inspired by similar programs in other cities, namely L’Alliance Forêt Urbaine in Montreal. In this model, the municipality developed an official contractual relationship with one organization, which serves as the central convener for the L’Alliance and Fiscal Agent to distribute public funding for planting and maintenance projects. Together, the Alliance created a governance structure to allow organizations of all capacities to participate in decision-making and access public funding resources for projects. The L’Alliance works together to create and coordinate tree planting and maintenance efforts. Public funds, issued as grants, are provided to collaborating partners within the L’Alliance for projects, working in coordination with private property owners. The Tree Alliance in Boston will have a strong focus on the needs of Boston’s communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

“We applaud Mayor Wu’s Tree Alliance initiative to enhance Boston’s tree canopy so that City residents—particularly those living in environmental justice communities—can experience more of the health and climate benefits trees provide,” said David O’Neill, President of Mass Audubon. “Mass Audubon is honored to support the alliance of nonprofits that will work collaboratively with private landowners willing to plant trees on their properties to provide more equitable access to nature, improve human health and wildlife diversity, and battle climate change.”

Organizations that are interested in participating in Boston’s Tree Alliance should contact BostonTreeAlliance@massaudubon.org for more information. Additionally, Mass Audubon will be hosting an informational kick-off meeting in late summer/early fall. Mass Audubon will be hiring an Alliance Coordinator to support programming and implementation. To learn more about this position, visit massaudubon.org/jobs/community-engagement-coordinator-boston

The Tree Alliance is a key strategy to expand and preserve Boston’s tree canopy. Boston’s Healthy Places Initiative 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

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