The Bedford Arbor Resources Committee is posed to help drive the town’s first tree master plan.
But taking precedence, according to committee Chair Dan Churella, will be updating the current tree policy, primarily to more realistically define the value of trees.
Churella explained that under current policy, every public tree removed has a value of $500. “We want to change to a value of per-inch of diameter, which more fairly values trees because older, larger trees are more valuable than smaller ones.” He noted, “It’s relatively easy to have some trees valued at $30,000 apiece.”
Also, the committee wants to eliminate the policy’s per-acre valuation that Churella labels “really inadequate.” Currently, the per-acre charge of $5,000 can be remediated by planting 10 replacement trees, he said, which is equivalent to replacing a football-field-size forest with one tree of two-and-a-half inches in diameter every 10 yards.
Under the policy, payments are made to a mitigation fund for planting and maintaining trees.
Other policy adjustments that BARC has discussed are higher valuation for historic, memorial, or significant trees; recording the loss of all town trees for any reason as well as newly-planted town trees in a public database; alternatives to chipping town trees when removed; and better enforcement of state laws and the local policy.
The committee is scheduled to meet on April 20, and “by that meeting we expect to have the tree policy pretty much finalized,” after consultation with town counsel. “Then we will share it with Public Works, Facilities, and the Planning Board, explaining why the current policy is inadequate and why we’re changing it.”
Ultimately, the tree policy changes will require Select Board approval.
Churella said he hopes work on the master plan can get underway at the beginning of July and be finished by the end of the calendar year. July 1 is when funds approved for fiscal 2024 by town meeting become available. The capital line of $150,000 includes $50,000 for a tree plan professional consultant. The remainder is earmarked for removal and replacement of diseased ash trees.
He envisions an ad hoc development committee composed of staff and volunteers. “It gets the public knowledgeable and involved,” he explained. “It makes the master plan belong to everybody.” The process will be managed by town departments overseen by the Town Manager and Select Board; BARC, he said, will be “taking the lead and having significant impact.”
BARC members began serious conversations about a tree master plan in May 2022. Their rationale was that other overall plans – bicycle and pedestrian, for example, or The Great Road Master Plan – are built-in advocates from the start of a project.
Longtime member Jacqueline Edwards, who has been a vocal advocate of the master plan idea for years, said she is “thrilled with how much support BARC and tree issues have received from the community.” The master plan, she said, “will serve our community and its urban forest well.”
When BARC gets involved as a project develops, the only questions asked are whether intentions to remove and replace trees are consistent with the town tree policy. BARC is never in an advocacy position, he explained.
Churella has assembled a tree master plan outline based on documents from other organizations, ranging from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Northeast Center for Urban and Community Forestry to the City of Cambridge and the Town of Concord.
“One of the key components will be a tree planting plan,” Churella said, delineating what should be planted where, assessing variables such as soil conditions, maintenance requirements, potential pest problems, and “survivability in the face of climate change.”
“I hope it also includes a maintenance program with priority and proactive maintenance. That should help us save more trees and get more planted and make a big difference in the town,” Churella added.
“The master plan will include economic, environmental, and social evaluation of Bedford’s trees,” Churella continued. “It will look at the state of the urban forest, and an inventory of all public trees. The inventory is very important and helpful. The town already counts everything – utility poles, hydrants, weed whackers.”
Other features will be operations and police reviews and establishment of short- and long-term goals. “I expect there will be an action plan that will turn into projects, just as a transportation plan would.”
“Community input will be a very big part” of the master plan initiative, Churella said, as the project “literally affects everybody. People are more aware of and interested in trees and caring for them. Some towns have had as many as 10 public meetings to get input.”
One reason for increased interest, he observed, is “trees are one of the best mechanisms for counteracting the effects of climate change. They also contribute to fixing climate change.”
Churella’s outline delineates benefits of trees: “temperature moderation, reduced energy consumption and cost, cleaner air, wildlife habitat, reduced asthma in children, prevention of water pollution, erosion prevention, higher property values, better mental and physical health, success of business districts, stronger and more connected community, safer streets, mitigating pollinator decline.”
It also calls for management strategies for invasive insects and diseases, as well as a plan for storm preparedness.