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Urban Forest Plan: Community Advisory Board (CAB) workshop #3

Read a meeting summary and emerging themes from the Community Advisory Board workshop #3, "The Management Approach."

This workshop was the last of three workshops for the Community Advisory Board. The workshops have helped complete the matrix below. The matrix is one part of how the project is evaluating the condition of Boston's urban forest and how well it's being sustainably managed. 

This workshop's theme was "the management approach" which focused on street trees and open space that is City-owned and managed by Boston Parks Department. It was recognized, however, that there are many other departments, individuals, and organizations that participate in the management of urban forests. Because of the varied nature of their involvement in the urban forest, it would be difficult to encompass their management approaches in the matrix  While not included in the matrix, all are important and will be considered in the development of the Urban Forest Plan.

There's still a ways to go in the project and the Community Advisory Board will continue to guide the project and meet in other forms. To learn more about the Community Advisory Board or how to get involved with the Urban Forest Plan, visit the Urban Forest Plan website.

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  • Meeting summary

    On September 27, 2021, the Community Advisory Board convened its third of three workshops with community stakeholders, City staff, and project consultants. These workshops are designed as a forum for the community to collectively explore current conditions in Boston, and start to identify challenges and solutions to the most pressing issues.  In other words, the workshops provide a systematic and facilitated method for the community at-large to self-evaluate the sustainability of Boston's urban forest. 

    The purpose of this workshop was to continue the self-assessment process, discussing the third set of indicators of a sustainable urban forest: The Management Approach, along with two special topics - tree protection and goal setting. This workshop was held virtually using Zoom Webinar, and was attended by a total of 57 people.

    The Management Approach set of criteria are primarily related to City operations and care of the urban forest.  A 15-minute presentation.  Much like the first workshop, the performance level in each indicator was determined ahead of time based on quantitative data (unlike the second workshop on the Players, in which the findings were more qualitative, subjective, and thus set by attendees).  The results showing the score of each indicator are in Figure 2. The remaining 90 minutes were used for exploration of two topics: Tree Protection Regulations and Goal Setting. Input was collected through 1) live polling, 2) group discussion via two Roundtables, as well as 3) a full online comment form that participants were asked to fill out (15 forms were submitted). 

    A summary of input received in this workshop follows.

    Full Assessment Results

    Assessment Results

    The full assessment of the sustainability of Boston's urban forest was presented to the group during the presentation, showing results from all 46 indicators of an urban forest in Boston.  Just over half (54%) scored in the Low performance level, 26% scored Moderate, and 20% scored Good.

    Two points to note on this final assessment:

    1. The numbers in the Players matrix indicators correspond to the votes awarded by the Community Advisory Board members.
    2.  The Management Approach assessment focused on street trees and open space that is City-owned and managed by Boston Parks Department. It was recognized, however, that there are many other departments, individuals, and organizations that participate in the management of urban forests. Because of the varied nature of their involvement in the urban forest, it would be difficult to encompass their management approaches in the matrix.  While not included in the matrix, all are important and will be considered in the development of the Urban Forest Plan.

    Prompt: Looking at the results from the completed assessment of the urban forest in Boston, are there surprises, points of note, or other comments or questions you have to share?

    No Surprise / Agreement
    • No real surprises in the assessment (2)
    • I'm not surprised, but certainly dismayed at the poor score for many of the topics
    • I agree with the results. We need to dramatically increase our Parks staff & maintenance budget. 
    • Not super surprised. I think we need to find a way to understand what is on private land [starting with universities and colleges/schools]. 
    • These seem pretty on-par for what we were thinking - with many metrics not having been taken yet, or at least not taken in a systematic way. 
    • What an important conversation! thanks for convening it
    Questions on Ratings
    • I would say a rating of "good" for the condition of street trees is generous. As mentioned in our CAB workshop discussions, BPRD resources are limited. There are diseased trees and many under stress that need attention. More arborists are needed to address the heath of the city's street trees. 
    • Not sure I agree w/ 'good' for overhead street trees or open space.
    • I don't think our street tree condition is good.  Take a look at Dorchester Avenue to see poor conditions.
    Lack of Data Should be Remedied
    • There are lots of spaces with no data, which is an interesting place to be.
    • Data of trees on private land  and soil data should be remedied ASAP. As development in Boston continues to intensify, having a fuller picture of the trees on private land will help the city to better assess which trees must be protected when developers are submitting plans for buildings. Soil data will help the city to improve the conditions within which the trees live. For instance, the city gives free compost and mulch to community gardens. Parks, medians, and other public grounds should be given priority in composting and mulching to improve soil conditions citywide. 
    • I think we need to find a way to understand what is on private land [starting with universities and colleges/schools]. 
    • These seem pretty on-par for what we were thinking - with many metrics not having been taken yet, or at least not taken in a systematic way. 
    Comments on Management Approach Findings
    • There's also a very strong acknowledgement of the lack of capacity in the management section, which is refreshing to see the openness of the city in that regard. Thank you for that.
    • What about lantern flies and trees of heaven? Max if you could send spotted lantern fly tips that would be helpful. We have some tree of heaven on some of our food forest sites. Site:…
    Other Comments
    • The main comment I have for all of them is that if the city can choose the indicators to measure successful urban forestry against over time, this UFP should define how to collect those not just now but over time. For all of them, the evaluation (like a tree inventory itself) is a snapshot of what we have right now in our city. As residents, climate change, and sociopolitical factors change, it would be nice to think of ways to keep urban forestry practices both measured consistently and accelerating in the right direction (which for us is towards a biophilic city).
    • The information in the table shows that more work is needed to involve, generate commitments and obtain the active participation of all stakeholders, which is why efforts should be focused on awareness raising, education, establishment of mandatory rules and sanctions.
    • Yay! Don’t want it to be the end yet - these sessions have been so powerful
    • One of the most interesting discussions/workshops ever had.
    • I thought the CAB process was well designed and insightful. I appreciate the active involvement of the city, interested friends groups and professionals. Thanks for inviting me to participate. I have high hopes for the outcome of your efforts. 
    • Learned a lot! 
    • I appreciate all the work that went into creating the CAB. I look forward to delving in deeper with whomever else wants to continue to  develop a plan that puts Boston at the forefront of climate resiliency. 
    • Thank you all for working on this and putting these sessions together 
    • We have to not just have conversations but implement that this is actually happening. Actions speak louder than words. Saving the trees we have & planting where there aren't any is crucial. Hearing back from 311 about how a tree removed on the sidewalk isn't their issue because on commercial property is just passing the buck. Have to collaborate in order for this to work properly & efficiently. 
    • Use Boston's overwhelming number of higher ed institutions and staggering number of students to implement some of these goals. Reach out to colleges that have programs and majors geared around forestry and environmental sciences to gather talent and collaborate to use resources in research. The Colleges of the Fenway recently formed an inter-collegiate minor around sustainability, requiring students to take courses at multiple colleges for the minor. Communicating with professors to form internships or research projects could provide valuable research and labor while costing little to nothing for the city. Please reach out to me if you would like contacts of some sustainability and environmental professors who may be interested in collaborating with the city's green initiatives, if this has not been done already.  
    • We have to push this now and get commitments from candidates to support initiatives and ordinances which protect and expand the tree canopy.
    • Sigamos adelante con este valioso esfuerzo, estoy muy agradecida por participar de él.  TRANSLATION: Let’s continue with this valuable effort, I am very grateful for participating in it.
    • Great job with this community engagement effort. This has really been a fruitful experience and we are excited to see what comes next!
    • Thank you always for your hard work putting these together. Be safe!
    • Thank you, great presentations and discussions!
    • Thank you, everyone. This has been amazing!

    Special Topic #1: Tree Protection Regulations

    Protection Regulations

    Jenny Gulick presented on the topic of tree protection regulations, which included a primer on tree protection regulations in general, as well as a summary on the existing code in Boston.  Comparisons were made to several nearby communities (Concord, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville) as well as the Cities of Atlanta, Austin, and Seattle, considered to be peer cities due to size and similar development pressures.

    After each part of the tree code was described to the group, all were asked in an online poll their opinion on the existing tree protection regulations. 

    • The majority (85%) of voting CAB members believe the existing tree protection regulations need to be strengthened. 
    • When asked specifically about regulations on tree removals on private property, over half (54%) of voting CAB members believe this regulation should be in place in all instances, just over one-third (38%) think tree removal on private property should be regulated only when in conjunction with development or construction projects. 

    Both online poll results are shown below.

    QUESTION 1: In your opinion, Boston tree protection regulations are (choose one):

    Ok as is 3% (1/40)
    Need to be strengthened 86% (34/40)
    Too restrictive currently 3% (1/40)
    Unsure 10% (4/40)

    QUESTION 2: There should be regulations around tree removal on private property: (choose one): 

    In all instances 54% (21/39)
    Just during land development or construction projects 38% (15/39)
    Not regulated at all 0% (0/39)
    Unsure 3% (1/39)
    I have other ideas that I will include in my Online Comment Form 5% (2/39)


    More specific questions on new tree protection regulations were asked via the online form (15 responses received).    A summary of results follow:

    Potential NEW tree protection and preservation regulations for Boston Which are needed? Which would likely be supported? Which would likely be opposed?
    REGULATE/PROTECT- only heritage/significant trees (by species/size)- on all properties 5 9 -
    REGULATE REMOVAL- all properties (includes residential) 10 3 10
    REGULATE REMOVAL- multifamily, commercial, and industrial properties only 3 5 2
    REGULATE REMOVAL- on all property only associated with land development 1 8 3
    REQUIRE PROTECTION PLAN- for construction on all properties (includes residential) 8 5 3
    REQUIRE PROTECTION PLAN- construction on multi-family, commercial, and industrial property only 2 6 2
    REQUIRE REPLACEMENTS and/or FEES- for trees removed during land development 10 10 1

    Comments received related to tree protection regulations: 

    • We need more specific direction for the protection of trees on private land
    • Last night's workshop was excellent. I really enjoyed hearing about other cities' ordinances. I was struck by the fact that the City of Boston had the earliest tree protection laws in the country but now we seem to have become less protective of our trees in favor of development. 
    • The portion of last night's meeting about “carrots and sticks” was also very good. Boston needs to incentivize tree planting in the private realm and be stricter about tree removal. 
    • It was very helpful to learn more about Chapter 87 and to look at ordinances around the US. If 60 percent of the trees in Boston are on private property, then the city needs both a tree ordinance to prevent trees from being cut down AND incentives to increase the tree canopy on those same private properties. Cemeteries, churches, shopping plazas, schools, and other businesses who have grass should be encouraged to plant trees with tax incentives and other non-monetary "nudge/carrot" incentives. Not enough residents know that they can request trees on 311. More needs to be done to help folks plant trees and care for them,  with education and low-income incentives to care for trees on private property.
    • The above questions are tricky only because I work with a lot of tree advocacy groups (introducing a somewhat pro-tree bias) so I think they would (and I've seen them recently) oppose ordinances that don't cover ALL property types. For extra ordinance thoughts - there's no way that the current staff level and budget at BPRD could add that much labor (enactment, enforcement, administration). With appropriate staff additions and budget it's definitely possible and I'd like to see trees protected on all property types. The key from my perspective is not to introduce any policy that inadvertently stops conservation projects from occurring. For example - removal of ailanthus, glossy buckthorn and multiflora rose - these plants can become tree-sized and are woody. Would folks be penalized for removing large invasive trees in a conservation effort to replace them with natives? Also, I understand this doesn't happen much in cities, but say the property would serve a greater socio-ecological function as a pollinator garden than an unmaintained woodland. How would ordinances affect that? One more thing - ISA has guidelines on how to write good tree ordinances and there are many other cities with them. How can we take the best of those and leave out anything that doesn't work so well? Have those ordinances shown increases in canopy that can be directly related?
    • Why isn't there an option for protection on all properties?
    • We need the most protective ordinance to be pushed, with a fall back position on single family housing.
    • A summer fellow in MONUM looked at having ISD provide information when someone is coming in for a permit - seems like a good time to nudge
    • A moratorium on all tree removal 6 DBH and above from City Land (including public housing) until ordinance is active (with a few to be defined exceptions regarding public safety). We are in a climate crisis - and it is unrealistic to assume our mature trees can be replaced once removed.  It is unreasonable for the City to suggest we should allow the continued cutting down of trees from City land without any protections in place.  Can you imagine living in an urban landscape without the comfort of big trees? Our trees are a communal asset - If the City continues to sell, lease, and profit Off the open land that bears many of our trees without any protections, protocols, or processes in place to evaluate what is being lost, the people must Resist.  
    • Solo quiero decir que las regulaciones deberán siempre garantizar que prime el bien común sobre el bien particular. TRANSLATION: I just want to say that regulations should always ensure that the common good prevails over the private good.
    • Ordinances help to put a city's money where it’s mouth is.
    • Can utility companies pay to replace trees?
    • Our community needs to be educated on how to care for trees and why they are important
    • People can’t afford to pay for maintenance, and a program to help them with this would be helpful.
    • Should the city allow private developers to manipulate zoning codes by granting variances that reduce green space in neighborhoods surrounding their development for no other reason than selfish gain. (like building a structure too big for the lot).
    • These variances are reviewed by civic associations.  Local organizations can demand tree equity replacement or other alternatives like green roofs.
    • Mass General Law chapter 87 Section 14 deals specifically with the rights of utility tree maintenance.  Are you aware of any examples of municipal level ordinances that address utility tree maintenance?
    • Politicians are going to be reluctant to tell people they can’t cut trees down on their own property. We need a strategy to get politicians on our side.
    Further questions

    Q: Back Bay Architectural Commission has had some success advocating for trees. What authority do the architectural commissions have in these decisions? Why are they (Back Bay) effective?
    A: They have been educated on the issue, and while it’s not a regulation, it’s a norm and they favor trees.

    Q: How do we address the different needs in different neighborhoods? How do the regulations cover every need without competing (i.e. some need to stop clear cutting, while some need to increase planting).
    A: You can write it for exemptions (i.e. “this” neighborhood is exempt), but it’s best to create a general master plan with one ordinance, with specific work plans built with the community for each neighborhood.

    Q: Do these ordinances actually have “teeth”?
    A: You could have the best Ordinance in the world, but you need to pair it with actual enforcement, education, and political will. The latter needs to be addressed first or simultaneously. 

    Q: Are you aware of any municipal ordinances that address utility tree maintenance?
    A: Do we want electricity or trees? Both. Planting the right tree in the right place is best practice, and other cities tend to call out utilities by requiring permits for their work. They also require them to follow proper arboricultural practices.

    Special Topic #2: Setting Goals

    Setting Goals

    Rachel Comte presented on the final topic centered on goal setting in Boston. The presentation covered the importance of tree canopy related goals, their use, canopy goals from other cities and changes they have experienced over time.  

    After the presentation, attendees were asked in an online poll the preferred method to measure progress in Boston in coming years. 

    Over half of respondents cited that correcting inequities in canopy cover (58%) should be a progress metric in Boston, followed by improvements to the quality of tree canopy (55%), then canopy goals by neighborhoods (40%). This group feedback will be used by the Equity Council to develop a proposed recommendation for the overall vision and goals of the Urban Forest Plan.

    QUESTION: How should we be measuring progress as we move forward in Boston? Select your top 3 choices.

    Correcting equity of canopy cover 58% (23/40)
    Tree canopy goal - citywide 35% (14/40)
    Tree canopy goal - by land use 15% (6/40)
    Tree canopy goals - by neighborhoods or similar geographic sections 40% (16/40)
    Number of neighborhoods engaged 18% (7/40)
    Raising levels of specific tree benefits 33% (13/40)
    Quality of tree canopy 55% (22/40)
    Tree planting goals 15% (6/40)
    I have other ideas that I will include in my Online Comment Form 5% (2/40)

    The same poll was also asked in the online form, but giving respondents more options - what goals do they fully support, could live with, or not support at all.  15 people filled out this form, results follow.

    How should we be measuring progress as we move forward in Boston? I fully support this I can live with this I do not support this
    Correcting inequity 14 - -
    Canopy goal - citywide 9 5 -
    Canopy goal- by neighborhood or other small areas 12 2 -
    Canopy goal- by land use 10 2 -
    Engagement levels 11 3 -
    Tree canopy quality 11 3 -
    Tree planting goals 10 3 1

    Additionally, some numbers specific to Boston were presented (below), covering current canopy and what it would take to increase canopy levels.

    How to GROW CANOPY: preservation/care of existing canopy and adding new trees.

    • Approximately 300 acres additional canopy needed to add 1% (one percentage point) to citywide canopy cover in Boston (based on 2019 tree canopy change assessment).

    • For scale, Boston Common currently has about 50 acres of canopy and the Arnold Arboretum has about 261 acres of canopy.

    • While these numbers cite parks for scale, growing canopy will need to happen on all types of land ownership (private yards, campuses, parks, streets, etc.), each of which have different capacities for hosting canopy growth.

    Competing Priorities
    • It is super important to understand the full range of priorities (as they differ from department to department, commission to commission) on land use in Boston before we set goals.  For example housing, demand for parking, and protected bike lanes are all examples of uses putting demands on space that trees currently occupy (both on public and private lands), and destroying canopy faster than can be mitigated.  It's only by understanding these many pressures that we can begin to balance the demands and figure out solutions that start toward meaningful tree planting and preservation.  
    • (Competing goal perspectives) How do we achieve our canopy goals and address need for (for instance) affordable housing development 
    • Proper balance between goals (what comes first?)
    • Trees came down because of security cameras to avoid damage to the brick building. Tree's (public health) benefits are more important than damaging brick buildings.
    • Affordable housing vs trees
    • Public housing cut 70 trees for development last summer! 
    • How do we achieve canopy goals without mitigation issues with regard to operating funds and other priority that city may have   
    Caring for Existing First
    • Jenny rightly pointed out that we currently plant trees with no real maintenance in place for them to survive and thrive, so perhaps a Tree Planting goal is not productive (yet).  We don't currently have city tree planting specifications that meet industry BMPs for health and longevity (24 SF opening, nets 72 CF of root zone per pit).  Fixing these issues is fundamental to the health of our existing canopy.
    • One specific thing that came to mind here is soils. On our parkways, we've seen that it's VERY difficult to establish a tree that actually becomes a canopy tree in the end because of soil salt content, compaction, lack of restoration and proper mulching, and even trucks running them over (sometimes when they are in year 6 or 7). These difficulties show that planting one tree doesn't mean you'll get that fraction of canopy increase you might be hoping for or that the public might equate with it. I think urban forestry goals also absolutely need to have longevity of measurement planned in. 
    • There is a study that old large trees bring huge benefits. So matching the tree numbers could be one way but need to thinking about how much mutual tree could bring more benefit 
    • That’s why Cambridge would like the save the old trees
    Finding Space
    • I believe we need to be creative in where we are planting trees as well as plants in general. There are so many vacant lots, median strips, sidewalks, etc. The plants/flowers may not help with the tree canopy but they will help with overall air quality and beautification. 
    • Include green roofs, green walls, rain gardens/gutters, green shaded bike racks and bus stops in the definition of an urban (vs. natural/rural) forest. 
    • Asking all the development to green roofs will be another option. 
    • "Here's some tools I suggest we employ: Large scale public education campaigns like bus signs and billboards. QR codes on tree tags to link folks to local volunteer tree care opportunities. 311 opportunities to encourage ""citizen scientists"" to record trees through photos and mapping. 
    • Put shade, cooling, lower air condition costs, reduced asthma, lower heart rate/stress levels, reduced flooding, etc. as central to educational plan so that folks can learn that trees are more than just decoration. 
    • Japan has done studies of the benefits of trees/forests on human health. Look up Shunrin Yoku “Forest Bathing”
    • I think a lot citizen just “forget”  
    • (nudge mentality) Massive education campaign combined with some incentives benefits  such as free(low cost) pruning, free trees to plant etc.
    • I want Giant billboards to teach tree love!
    • Measuring education on tree benefits is a must.
    • Trees are also so universal— all cultures can and do appreciate trees, their beauty, their usefulness, etc
    • Need to think about how to engage everyone, renter, owner, pedestrians etc. 
    • City education campaign could focus, for example on: — trees soak up rainwater (less water in your basement!) — trees lower energy costs by shading houses
    Related to Tree Canopy % Goal
    • I do worry personally that tree canopy is a buzzword right now and that I haven't seen studies or data brought forth about how long it takes X number of trees planted to create Y amount of canopy. Yes, more trees planted tends to create more canopy by common sense, but I'd like to see evaluations of all the things that have to "go right" for each tree to actually grow to that height and spread that creates a 1% increase in canopy for Boston. 
    • Heard 60% of the tree canopy belongs to private land. (the fact will be checked :))
    • Question on how much of those private land are owned by the city or managed by the city?
    • So with a canopy goal, UVM needs to do more LiDAR analyses over time. With other indicators, they should also be planned to be replicated. Let's get some natural resources PhD programs interested in our City!
    • Tree make-up should be extremely diverse, with a preference for fast growing, high carbon sequestering, salt and drought tolerant species and those from zone 7 and below to replace those trees that will be weakened or killed by rising temperatures. 
    • One specific thing that came to mind here is soils. On our parkways, we've seen that it's VERY difficult to establish a tree that actually becomes a canopy tree in the end because of soil salt content, compaction, lack of restoration and proper mulching, and even trucks running them over (sometimes when they are in year 6 or 7). These difficulties show that planting one tree doesn't mean you'll get that fraction of canopy increase you might be hoping for or that the public might equate with it. I think urban forestry goals also absolutely need to have longevity of measurement planned in
    • Soil quality, assessment , understanding how we will going to keep 100 years not just 20 years 
    • As much as possible, a truly healthy urban forest should mimic a natural forest in the following ways: multilayered canopy (trees and bushes and ground cover), trees growing close together, mulching and letting leaves lie, no leaf blowing allowed (it kills soil organisms). Exception to ""natural"": permeable pavement for paths, small fencing whenever possible to prevent compaction of soil by feet, bikes, and vehicles. 

    Increasing Benefits

    • Recognizing that it is hard to measure the positive impacts of trees in such a way that we can work toward such goals (e.g. stormwater retention, etc.) I would hope that we could find some proxy measure to get at these benefits in our goals. Planting a bunch of new trees that die, or planting them in an area that doesn't "need" them as much as others is a waste, but something that could occur under some of the goals above.
    • The Benefits of the trees are measurable.  Stormwater management, Heat etc. 
    • Measure of trees absorb pollution
    Other Comments
    • This is a tricky one since tree canopy seems to be a "hot topic" right now - I would love to see social-ecological indices considered as goals. human dimension.  not just numbers and sizes. If we could evaluate social ecological index that would be beneficial 
    • Shoot for the stars and have a fall back position that is very good.
    • Keep the benefits practical
    • Equitable workforce training - yes!
    • yes soil goals!! and tree community goals! trees love partners
    • Currently Allston is taking a lot of old houses and building apartments and making an effort to match the numbers of removed trees and new (proposed) trees. 
    • (Need) moratorium to prevent tree removal 
    • around tree goals and care, adding tree "guild" goals to mimic nature like in permaculture practice. adding nature and human benefits and maintaining tree health over time. and more food producing trees and plants in those goals!
    • goal: form an independent branch of city government to handle all trees/ tree law writing/ management, planting, and maintenance of trees/ hiring of people to do these jobs. Do not split the duties between multiple offices or organizations. Cooperation must happen between many entities, but only a singular one should be managing and coordinating these efforts.
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