Saturday, July 20, 2024

Repeating droughts and heat waves are already here, but this year’s proposed budget cuts tree maintenance funds, doesn’t meet our tree-planting goals, doesn’t fully fund the Urban Forest Master Plan and grabs nearly a million dollars from the Tree Replacement Fund. It does, however, continue to send millions to projects that serially violate the plan, some of which even specify cutting down park trees.

The budget claims a nearly million-dollar increase for trees. It’s not clear this is correct. It compares last year’s budget without its funding supplements for tree-planting with this year’s “planting included” budget. Also included is the $125,000 that citizens, not management, decided to give to trees using Participatory Budgeting. Further, for this year, management has cut your tax dollars from tree planting and maintenance by dipping into the Tree Replacement Fund instead.

The money to treat for the lethally invasive beetle known as the emerald ash borer is more than cut in half despite our last budget calling for a 20 percent increase. The tree-pruning budget is cut in half, but the scope is increased from just parks and the cemetery to include street trees and young saplings. The Urban Forest Master Plan says “our first priority must be to remove fewer trees unnecessarily and to extend the lives of our trees through improved management practices.” Slashing our maintenance budget is bad management.

We cannot expect the same number of city staff to plant a lot more trees, do more pruning and treat more trees. Underfunding the tree budget will continue the city’s historic policy “let it run down, remove it and replace it,” which is terrible for tree canopy growth because it takes decades to replace a tree.

Missing Urban Forest Master Plan funding

In addition to zero funding to replace trees killed by drought or to improve the drought response, this budget fails to fully fund the Urban Forest Master Plan. Its “expert advisory committee” is not in the budget, soils of existing trees will not be improved, the Tree Trust isn’t funded and outreach is chronically underfunded, to name just a few issues.

If you know that our climate has already changed, then tell city management and your City Council to plant more trees, hire a professional manager to run the Urban Forest Master Plan and stop wasting money on projects that violate it.

The daylong public budget hearing including the Department of Public Works’ tree budget starts at 10 a.m. Tuesday in City Hall.

Charles Teague lives in North Cambridge and is a longtime tree advocate.