Urban Forestry Update: Boston Launches a New Tree Alliance Program

On September 20th, 2023, the City of Boston held its first Boston Tree Alliance (Alliance) meeting, co-led by the Environment Department and by Mass Audubon at the Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Mattapan. Dozens of Boston residents, advocate groups, business representatives, and community-based organizations, including A Better City, gathered to learn about the new program launched in May 2023. The Alliance’s September kickoff meeting was intended to begin a conversation regarding the qualities of a successful Alliance, barriers and challenges to tree planting, care, and long-term maintenance, and how the Alliance might support tree canopy on private land 20 years into the future.


Background Context: Establishing a Boston Tree Alliance


As clarified in the 20-Year Urban Forest Plan released a year ago, roughly 60% of Boston’s existing urban tree canopy sits on privately owned land. Recognizing the limitations of city agencies and trees on public land, the Boston Tree Alliance was launched in May 2023 to work collaboratively with private property owners and community-based organizations in Boston on voluntary tree planting, maintenance, and long-term care through grants and other capacity building opportunities. Modeled after a successful tree alliance in Montreal, Quebec, The Boston Tree Alliance, which is managed by the Environment Department, Parks and Recreation, and the Office of Green Infrastructure, and co-led by Mass Audubon, plans to use its mission to uplift the objectives of the 20-year Urban Forest Plan:


  • Goal 1: Equity First – To focus investments and improvements in under-canopied, historically excluded and socially vulnerable areas.
  • Goal 2: Proactive Care and preservation – To ensure trees and tree canopy are proactively cared for.
  • Goal 3: Community-led – To ensure community priorities drive urban forest decisions and management.
  • Goal 4: Prioritize and Value Trees – To increase awareness and buy-in regarding the importance of trees in Boston across the public and private sectors.


In addition, the Tree Alliance will advance the strategies of Boston’s Heat Plan and prepare its residents for a changing climate by reducing the impacts of the urban heat island effect, improving long-term health outcomes, increasing access to tree canopy in environmental justice communities, removing barriers to benefits of urban tree canopy, and building awareness and community knowledge of best practices for urban forest care through public engagement and education. Finally, the Alliance will also benefit from ongoing partnerships with the urban forestry students and faculty from PowerCorps Boston, an equitable workforce development program that has a tract focusing on urban forestry career development and capacity building.


Funding Urban Forestry


The Boston Tree Alliance received $1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for its first three years of operation, and a $2.6 million Urban and Community Forestry grant to increase and extend funding for another 2 years. In addition, on October 6th, 2023, Boston was awarded $11 million of a $22 million Urban and Community Forestry Grant secured by the State of Massachusetts from the U.S. Forest Service through the Inflation Reduction Act. Recent federal funding will help to bolster the directives set by the Tree Alliance and the Urban Forest Plan and will provide expanded opportunities for workforce development in urban forest maintenance through PowerCorps Boston. While the Alliance is fortunate to have considerable seed funding for its first 3-5 years of operation, additional sources of long-term funding will be required to sustain the Alliance’s work overtime.


Next Steps


A Better City is working with the Alliance to understand how to engage businesses and private landowners in expanding urban tree canopy and enhancing tree equity across neighborhoods in Boston. In addition to supporting the establishment and growth of the Boston Tree Alliance, A Better City is interested in opportunities like how privately-owned public spaces (POPS) in the city can be leveraged to expand Boston’s urban tree canopy. Beyond POPs, A Better City endeavors to support the transformation of marketplaces, campuses, and business fronts into beautiful greenspaces with flood-resilient permeable surfaces for pedestrian traffic to enhance Boston’s economic competitiveness, climate resilience, and quality of life for all residents, workers, and visitors. While the Boston Tree Alliance’s efforts are seeking to promote voluntary expansion of tree canopy on privately owned land, A Better City also continues to follow the development of tree protection ordinances in Boston City Council as well.

Slides from the first Boston Tree Alliance meeting can be found here. For more information on the Boston Tree Alliance, the 20-Year Urban Forest Plan, and/or other efforts to protect and expand tree canopy in Boston, please reach out to Amir Wilson or Isabella Gambill.

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