By Ruth Seward
Ten years ago Worcester began its long recovery from the Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) and with that mile marker in our rear view mirrors we are inviting you to a State of the Trees public forum to learn about the condition of Worcester’s trees. Join Tower Hill’s Worcester Tree Initiative, the Department of Disabilities and Human Rights, and Worcester’s Department of Public Works and Park at the Lurie Conference Center at Clark University Worcester, Mass., on Thursday, April 25, 2019 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Since the ALB was discovered in 2008 in the Burncoat neighborhood in Worcester, 36,257 individual trees and 1,656 acres of trees have been eliminated from the landscape in the ALB Quarantine Zone. This zone includes Worcester, Boylston, West Boylston, Auburn, Shrewsbury and Holden. Most of these trees were removed in Worcester. The Burncoat neighborhood lost 87 percent of their tree canopy because of the ALB, resulting in devastating changes. A study done at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, compared energy usage between the summers of 2008 and 2009 and found that there was a 98 percent increase in average energy usage in 2009. At that time the studied area had already lost 84 percent of its tree canopy.
It is worth noting that Clark University studied the loss of tree canopy in the Quarantine Zone during the intense cutting of infested trees in 2009 and 2010. The quarantine zone includes Worcester, West Boylston, Boylston, Shrewsbury, and parts of Holden and Auburn. Their research showed that even in the height of the removal of infested trees, more trees were lost in this area due to development of land into low density housing. These massive tree cuts do not cause the widespread alarm that plant diseases and pests do, and there are no massive replanting efforts to reforest the land afterward.
Trees offer a host of critical benefits to everyone. You probably already know that trees create the oxygen that is critical for life on earth as we know it. Additionally, trees clean our air, pulling particulates out of the air that lead to respiratory ailments such as asthma. They help lower temperatures which is particularly important in urban settings where urban heat island effect, the increase in temperatures experienced in cities due to paved surfaces, high traffic, and a lack of vegetation. Trees also intercept rainwater and, as a result, prevent flooding and sewer overflows. Furthermore, trees have a positive impact on our mental health, reducing stress and boosting our ability to concentrate. Studies have shown that well treed areas have lower crime rates and higher economic activity. And of course, trees offer habitat for wildlife and certain trees can provide us with food.
There is no doubt that trees are a critical component of the environment, whether a natural forest or a dense city. For Worcester and all cities there needs to be an emphasis on keeping a healthy balance of green space even while creating space for homes and businesses. If you want to ensure that happens, come to the public forum on Worcester’s community forest on April 25th. You will hear from Worcester’s Tree Warden about what the city is doing for our forest now, a decade into the ALB recovery, and you will have the opportunity to ask questions and have any of your concerns heard. Worcester Tree Initiative will also share about how our work with Tower Hill Botanic Garden is continuing to support Worcester’s tree canopy and allowing us to share the lessons we have learned together here with other cities and towns in our region.
Ruth Seward is the executive director of the Worcester Tree Initiative, a program of Tower Hill Botanic Garden.