Strip Somerville, MA of its "Tree City USA" Status

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We, the undersigned, do hereby petition:

We ask the Arbor Day Foundation and the State Forester of Massachusetts to strip Somerville, MA of its status as a “Tree City USA.”  We ask that no similar awards, honors or accolades be issued until Somerville makes substantial, lasting, effective improvements in caring for and improving what remains of our urban forest.

Under present conditions, we feel that issuing these awards to Somerville cheapens the reputation of the Arbor Day Foundation. It shows detachment and a lack of commitment to real world impact.  

2019 is the 15th year of Mayor Joe Curtatone’s administration. Throughout his tenure, he has repeatedly stated his commitment to the environment. At the same time, our city’s trees have suffered measurable and perhaps irreparable loss.  We ask that you look deeply at the situation on the ground and see for yourself whether we qualify as a “tree city.”

We call your attention to these facts:

Somerville lost a massive number of trees in 2017 and 2018 to city, state, and private development. Though no central accounting was kept by the city, we have reviewed construction documents and site surveys, and also simply counted stumps. The loss runs to thousands of trees and constitutes a substantial fraction of our total urban canopy.  (1, 2, 3, 10)

The online data and the presentations by city staff that are available on Somerville’s website show a misleading and optimistic perspective that omits the largest of these removals, leading to a false sense of progress in the face of a regional, catastrophic loss.  (4, 11)

Somerville has made no estimates or goals about the expected citywide gain or loss of trees, canopy, or biomass in 2019, despite multiple inquiries by both residents and legislators. (5)

Somerville has failed to proactively manage tree removals within our city limits, leaving residents surprised time and again by swift, large scale removals. (6, 7)

Somerville’s zoning and other ordinances provide no protections whatsoever against the removal of trees on private property, which has allowed developers to pre-emptively clear-cut wooded lots without any specific plans or reason. (12)

The city administration has failed to nominate, staff, or convene its Urban Forestry Committee in the 14 months since it was created by legislative action in October, 2017.

Despite the lack of members or meetings, Somerville continues to use the Urban Forestry Committee in support of its applications both for state grants and for Tree City USA status. (8)

Somerville’s Tree Warden fills many roles throughout the city, including that of Superintendent of Lights and Lines in our Department of Public Works. He fulfills his role as Warden primarily through the removal and pruning of trees that threaten public safety and by holding “tree hearings” to announce these removals in compliance with state law. To our knowledge, he does not engage with tree preservation or reforestation in any capacity.

Somerville’s budget line item “Care of Trees” is allocated to the Department of Public Works and is used to fund the three person “tree crew” who perform these removals.

Somerville has, for more than a year, failed to issue citations or letters of reprimand for trees that were improperly removed along Beacon Street, despite findings by both city staff and by the legislature that such citations should be issued. (9)

Somerville’s City Arborist works with extremely limited resources, among many other responsibilities, as a single-person “Division” of urban forestry. In more than two years the city has not completed a tree inventory, a forestry management plan, or a program recognizing community trees.

Somerville has failed to hire a second arborist in the six months since interim funding was approved for the position.

Initial Signers

Tori Antonino, Shane Brodie, Rob Buchanan, Chris Dwan, David Guss, Giles Kotcher, Ulysses Lateiner, Leigh Meunier, Renee Scott, Lynn Wiles, Kate Wheeler

References

  1. “Protect Our Urban Forest.” August 15, 2018. The Somerville Times.  
  2. “De-Stress and Breathe Easy, The Public Health Benefits of Urban Trees.” October 17, 2018. The Somerville Times 
  3. “Somerville’s Trees, 2018.” October 3, 2018. Testimony presented to the Somerville Board of Aldermen.
  4. Somerville’s Urban Forestry Division
  5. Board orders number 205704, 205705, 206435, and 206436, Somerville Board of Aldermen.
  6. “Contractors remove trees on Beacon Street without city knowledge.” Wicked Local. October 2017. 
  7. Board orders 204361 and 206577. Somerville Board of Aldermen 
  8. Somerville’s application to the Mass DCR Urban and Community Forestry Challenge Grant Program. October 2017. 
  9. “The Curtatone Clear Cut.” Blog post.  December 2018.  
  10. Street and Park Public Space Tree Inventory and Management Plan. Davey Tree Resource group, for Somerville MA. July 2009.  
  11. Report shows alarming 18 percent loss in cambridge’s tree canopy.”  Wicked Local.October 2018.  
  12. City considers the protection of trees on private property.”  September 2018.  Somerville Times.