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Wellesley protects its arboreal assets

By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff

Back in January, a well-meaning Wellesley landlord illegally pruned several town-owned trees. Experts who examined the trees afterwards believed that they had been over-pruned, and were in danger of dying in the later months. Since then, the care of the town’s trees has been a well-discussed topic in the community.

The town of Wellesley has specific laws to protect its town-owned trees. The Town Wellesley Tree Bylaw (or Section XVIE of the Town of Wellesley Zoning Bylaw) states that the purpose of the bylaw is to motivate Wellesley property owners to protect prosperous trees.

Brandon Schmitt, director of the Wellesley NRC and tree warden, clarified the importance of protecting town-owned trees. "While the true effects of this bylaw are somewhat unknown, based on a preliminary investigation of several years of tree protection plans submitted to the Building Department by Planning and NRC Department staff, we estimate that approximately two thirds of the trees subject to the bylaw were identified as being preserved. At very least, the bylaw raises awareness about the town’s tree canopy and forces developers to acknowledge trees on a particular site … At best, it promotes retention of trees that might otherwise be removed."

According to Schmitt, Wellesley’s tree-focused bylaws are not so out of the ordinary if the town’s history is considered. “The state of Massachusetts has some of the most forward-thinking regulations regarding tree protection in the country,” he explained. “Wellesley is similarly ahead of the curve, being the oldest Tree City USA in the Northeast at 35 years. I believe a vast majority of Wellesley residents appreciate the beauty of their tree-lined streets and parklands, and understand the critical ecological and environmental benefits they provide.”

According to arborday.org, to be a participant in Tree City USA, a town must meet four criteria: they must have a community tree ordinance, maintain a tree board or department, spend at minimum two dollars per capita on urban forestry, and finally, celebrate Arbor Day (April 26). Decades before Wellesley even had the tree-focused bylaws, they were a Tree City USA town, keeping to strict tree guidelines. It’s not shocking that the town wants to ensure that no one else accidentally over-prunes any more trees.

The landlord who pruned the trees was fined $3,060 for the incident. The Board of Selectmen may also decide to seek out addition damages, believing that there may be up to $8,250 worth of damage done to the tree.

Schmitt reminded residents to always take precautions before cutting any trees. “People should always call the NRC before any tree pruning or removal work is done on public or private property, or if there is a question about the ownership of a particular tree. We hope very soon to make the town’s tree census data publicly accessible.”

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