, Salem, MA

March 6, 2013

Tree warden's work cut out for him

By Tala Strauss
Gordon College News Service

---- — PEABODY — Brian Grant, 38, has always loved parks and trees. But as the city’s new tree warden — essentially, the guardian of trees — Grant sees them with new eyes.

“I used to just drive down the street and just keep going. Now I’m looking at every tree I pass,” Grant said. “It’s good and it’s a curse, I guess.”

With many of Peabody’s older trees reaching 60 feet, Grant said, the risk of a falling tree doing significant damage makes tree removal a priority for the Recreation, Parks and Forestry Department. Tree wardens like Grant are responsible for overseeing the planting, pruning and removal of trees. In fact, since 1890, all cities and towns in Massachusetts have been required by law to have a tree warden, and the Massachusetts Tree Wardens & Foresters Association is the oldest tree organization in the nation, having worked for “the protection and preservation of trees” since 1913.

But right now, things aren’t looking so good for trees.

This past year, for instance, Grant’s department was unable to plant any new trees because the money originally budgeted for planting had to be redirected to cleanup after Superstorm Sandy. Director Jennifer Davis said the department didn’t plant any new trees the year before, either.

She hopes this year will be different. The department plans to spend $15,000 on planting trees. At a cost of $250 to $300 to purchase a tree, that would mean up to 50 new trees in Peabody in the coming months.

“We are overdue to leave a zero carbon footprint,” said Sean McCrea, 37, a member of Grant’s three-man crew. “The rate of tree removal to tree replacement in Peabody is too frightening.”

The life span of trees in cities is shorter today, McCrea said, averaging two to three decades rather than the 60 or so years a tree used to live when cities had more “wholesome” lifestyles. But because the life span is now affected by traffic, air pollution and construction, “it’s not something we can reverse as a small organization. These are global issues,” McCrea said.

Sometimes the health of a particular tree is compromised simply because residents want their sidewalks to be flat, and that requires ripping up a tree’s root system, McCrea said.

This is where residents of Peabody come in: Anyone interested in improving Peabody’s tree canopy may participate in the Adopt-a-Tree program at Northeast Nursery. Residents can select and purchase a tree from Northeast Nursery at the wholesale price through the city’s account, according to the nursery’s website. The city then picks up the tree or schedules a delivery and plants it at the agreed location.

Neither the department nor Northeast Nursery in Peabody has kept track of how many residents have taken advantage of the program, which has been around since the 1990s, but McCrea said that residents who do should buy trees during planting season — April, May and part of the fall.

Even with help from residents, caring for existing trees and planting new ones can be demanding.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Grant said, “but there are only so many hours in a day.”