Friday, March 1, 2013

Your Tree Warden Needs You

Pictured above: Sean McCrea, 37, Mark Leblanc, 49, Bob Mello, 38, doing a tree removal
on Martinack Avenue in Peabody. 
Picture by Tala Strauss.

By Tala Strauss 

Gordon College News Service 

February 28, 2013
(This story appeared March 6, 2013, in the print and online editions of the Salem News, and March 11, 2013, in the Boston Globe, Peabody site.)

Peabody, MA— 
Brian Grant, 38, has always loved parks and trees. But as Peabody’s new tree warden—who is essentially the “guardian” of trees in Peabody (although he still needs to get his arborist license)—Grant sees trees with new eyes.

“I used to just drive down the street and just keep going. Now I’m looking at every tree I pass,” Grant said. “It’s good and it’s a curse, I guess.”

With many of Peabody’s older trees sometimes reaching 60 feet, Grant said, the risk of a falling tree doing significant damage makes tree removal a priority for the Department of Recreation, Parks & Forestry. Tree wardens like Grant are responsible for overseeing the planting, pruning, and removal of trees. In fact, since 1890 all cities and towns in Massachusetts have been required by law to have a tree warden, and the Massachusetts Tree Wardens & Foresters Association (MTWFA) is the oldest tree organization in the U.S., having worked for “the protection and preservation of trees” since 1913. But right now, things aren’t looking so good for trees in the Commonwealth.

This past year, for instance, Grant’s department was unable to plant any new trees because the money originally budgeted for planting had to be redirected to cleanup after Hurricane Sandy. Director Jennifer Davis said that even the year before that the department did not plant new trees.

Davis hopes this year will be different and said the department plans to spend $15,000 on planting trees. A tree costs $250-$300. Assuming the money is used only to purchase trees, there would be approximately 50 new trees in Peabody in the coming months.

“We are overdue to leave a zero carbon footprint,” said Sean McCrea, 37, a member of Grant’s three-man crew. “The rate of tree removal to tree replacement in Peabody is too frightening.”  

The life span of trees in cities is shorter today, McCrea said, ranging from two to three decades rather than the 60 or so years a tree used to live when municipalities had more “wholesome” lifestyles. But because the cause of their shortened lifespan is now affected by the amount of traffic, CO2 levels, and construction done in cities today, “it’s not something we can reverse as a small organization. These are global issues,” McCrea said.

Sometimes the health of a particular tree is compromised simply because residents want their sidewalks to be flat, and that requires ripping up a tree’s root system, McCrea said.

This is where residents of Peabody come in: anyone interested in improving Peabody’s tree canopy may participate in the “Adopt-a-Tree” program at Northeast Nursery. Residents can select and purchase a tree from Northeast Nursery at the wholesale price by using the city or town account, according to the nursery’s website. The city then picks up the tree or schedules a delivery and plants it at the agreed upon location.

Neither the city department nor Northeast Nursery in Peabody has kept track of how many residents have taken advantage of the program, which has been around since the 1990s, but McCrea said that residents who do should buy trees during planting season, April, May, and part of the fall.

Besides the “Adopt-a-Tree” program, Jim Connolly, 47, general manager at Northeast Nursery, said there are other ways to preserve and restore Massachusetts’ urban and community forests. For instance, on May 15 of this year, 351 towns in Massachusetts will participate in the “Plant Something” initiative. Additionally, the “America in Bloom” competition, sponsored by a nonprofit of the same name, “promotes nationwide beautification through education and community involvement by encouraging the use of flowers, plants, trees, and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements.” Nearly 200 cities in 40 states have already participated since their founding in 2001.

Similar organizations in Massachusetts include the Boston Tree Party, an urban agricultural project; Mass ReLeaf, a ministry devoted to environmental stewardship through tree-care projects established by the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ (MACUCC) and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation; and the Trustees of Reservations, an organization focused on the conservation of over 100 places since 1890.

Yet even with such organized attention,
caring for existing trees and planting news ones can be demanding and difficult. “There’s a lot of work to do but there are only so many hours in a day,” Grant said.


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