Worcester: No Stranger to Canopy Crisis
During the 19th century, Worcester protected large swaths of open space, and planted miles of large shade trees – chestnuts, elms and maples. Disease decimated the first two; a hurricane in 1938 destroyed thousands of the rest. In 1952, a powerful tornado uprooted two entire neighborhoods, leaving 94 people dead and a ravaged landscape.
Setting the Stage for Disaster
Spurred by the massive loss of trees, Worcester began an aggressive tree planting program that lasted more than a decade. The problem? Most were a single species, Norway maple, chosen for its fast growth. Just before discovery of the Asian Longhorned Beetle [ALB], eighty percent of Worcester’s 117,000 street trees were maples.
Respond, Regroup, Recover
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [APHIS] took charge. With local and state officials, they hosted public meetings to inform residents about the extent of the problem, and what was going to be done about it: both infested and non-infested but vulnerable trees would be removed from both public and private property.
Late in 2008, local Congressman James McGovern and Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, both residents of Worcester, decided that, as the trees fell, economic and emotional costs would rise. They formed a working group that became the Worcester Tree Initiative [WTI] with a goal to plant 30,000 trees in 5 years. No more than 10 percent of any one species was to be planted in the community.
Stories spread quickly among friends and colleagues about not recognizing their own street and getting lost in neighborhoods where they had lived for years.
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Worcester Tree Initiative Drives Change
Each planting season, WTI scheduled five or six Tree Giveaway event, where attendees could select trees and learn how to plant and take care of them. After the first series, participants were asked to pre-register, so WTI could determine how many trees, what species and size homeowners might prefer. Result: 6,000 trees planted on private land.
An Outdoor Education
Worcester schools partnered with WTI on educational, tree planting events for students in grades kindergarten through twelve. After low survival rates in the early years, WTI required schools to sign a contract, assuming responsibility for watering the trees. Result: 50 schools, 4,000 students participated.
Worcester Common Ground, a housing agency, took possession of an abandoned inner-city lot. Ascentia Social Services recruited farmers from Worcester’s newly-arrived community of Bhutanese refugees. WTI provided fruit trees, training and access to water. Result: New residents manage their own inner-city orchard.
Dodge Park, a small neighborhood public park, had most of its trees removed due to ALB. USDA, DCR, and volunteers from colleges and local businesses planted and watered trees, maintained walking trails, and beautified the park. Dodge Park Rest Home, an adjacent business, provided water for watering trees. Result: Restored park, engaged community.
Blackstone Headwaters Coalition, a local watershed group, received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to plant trees in two urban neighborhoods to reduce stormwater runoff. Residents and small businesses planted a total of 100 trees—both street trees and private trees. WTI provided expertise on tree planting, purchased the trees, and conducted extensive community outreach. City of Worcester Forestry Division planted the street trees. Result: Less runoff, lower treatment costs.
- Municipal departments
- State and Federal agencies
- Local, regional and national companies
- Local, regional foundations
- Non-profit organizations
- Educational institutions
- WTI served as hub and energizer for the campaign and gave away trees for residents to plant in their yards.
- City of Worcester Forestry Division planted street trees and trees in public parks.
- Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation planted trees in private yards where trees had been removed.
- Worcester Youth Center
- Clark University
- College of the Holy Cross
- Clark Street School
- Worcester Common Ground
- Ascentria Social Services
- Blackstone Headwaters Coalition
- On-going, general education and awareness programs enable residents to serve as first-line monitors of invasive species
- Multi-jurisdiction engagement ensures quick response and program development
- Neighborhood-based tree care programs can work
- Youth programs should be simple in structure, and tightly focused
- Engage community as early as possible to avoid surprise, anger and frustration as infested and potential host trees are removed
- Give-away programs featuring smaller trees may work better because they’re easier to transport and plant
- Register recipients of give-away trees and require a signed commitment for care
- Monitor give-away trees