To the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen of the City of Somerville,
I am writing to ask for budgetary consideration for maintenance and protection of Somerville’s inventory of trees, particularly street or “shade,” trees. Below are three specific areas where I think that an investment is appropriate.
1) Balance the rate of tree planting with the rate of tree loss:
It is clear to me that 2017 and 2018 saw a significant reduction in Somerville’s population of street trees. This is true when we simply count up trees removed vs. trees planted. It becomes somewhat horrifying when I think of the biomass lost when we plant a sapling or two to replace a mature tree.
I understand that those saplings will grow. Still, it seems a reasonable goal that Somerville should not lose ground any given year.
Somerville is home to perhaps 14,000 trees. At a rough estimate, we lose 2 to 3 percent of those trees per year to various causes. This means that we should be replacing between 280 and 420 trees merely to maintain the number. In order to maintain the biomass – which is critical to the environmental benefits of an urban forest, we should plant perhaps double or triple that number.
My understanding is that the city’s budget for new tree plantings in FY18 was, perhaps, 100 saplings. This stark difference is a simple explanation for the number of standing dead trees that line our streets. Quite simply, we are cutting down many times more trees than we are planting, and we are doing this for several consecutive years.
I ask that the city significantly increase our investment in planting new trees, bringing plantings into alignment with expected loss for FY19.
Even a focused investment to take down and replace the standing deadwood around our city would be a good start.
2) Invest in beautifying Beacon Street:
The Beacon Street reconstruction project has been a long, frustrating, and ultimately disappointing project for many of us who live in Ward 2. Specifically, the decision to clear cut the street – leaving no mature trees whatsoever – means that we will be without shade trees of any significant size for decades. This has a significant impact on property values, on heating and cooling bills, on transit and pedestrian safety and comfort, and also simply on the experience of the residents as we go about our lives.
I ask that the city create a substantial fund to support large trees in planters, community maintained container gardens, parklets and other innovative uses of paved and parking lots along the street, and other similar features.
Based on conversations with other Beacon Street residents, I am confident that we will meet the city halfway on this, with shovels, trowels, seeds, bulbs, and cash in hand to support this effort.
3) Increase the consideration given to mature healthy trees in the all development and construction projects:
This is not a specific line-item in the budget. Rather, it is a request that the city shift to a policy of retaining our mature trees, scoping development to work around, rather than through them.
Succinctly, the city should not be cutting down mature, healthy trees. I understand that this will be both slower and more expensive. Based on my experience this year, and on conversations with many of my neighbors this year, I believe that this is appropriate.
Thank you for your consideration.