Another Worcester First: Independence Day 1776

John Hancock's DefianceAs we await the arrival of Hurricane Arthur on this dreary Independence Day, here’s my account of the very first community celebration of the newly signed Declaration of Independence—right here, in Worcester, Massachusetts. The document had been approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, but it took another week or more for broadsides with the text to reach communities throughout the colonies. News traveled slower in those days, and epithets were, by today’s standards, considerably milder. . . .

It was a day long remembered. On the Town Common, near the liberty pole, flags of the 13 colonies rippled in the breeze. Church bells chimed and drummers beat a rat-a-tat military cadence, enticing more Worcester patriots to join the festivities. Two days earlier, a sedate crowd had gathered near the green to hear Isaiah Thomas read the stirring words from the Old South Meeting House porch. But this Monday, July 15, 1776, was a day for celebrating—a day to rally for freedom and cheer for their new doctrine of liberty, so eloquently stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Joined by town selectmen and Worcester’s Committee of Correspondence—which for three years had been nurturing the seeds of rebellion—the crowd greeted the words of the Declaration with “repeated huzzas, firing of musketry and cannon, bonfires, and other demonstrations of joy,” according to an account that appeared the following week in Thomas’s newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy.

After incinerating the royal crest of arms that had “in former times decorated, but of late disgraced” the town courthouse, the crowd converged on a former Tory haven, the King’s Arms Tavern. There they drank two dozen toasts to their newfound freedom—including “[s]ore eyes to all tories, and a chestnut burr for an eye stone . . . [p]erpetual itching without the benefit of scratching” and defeat to all America’s enemies, and enduring freedom and independence for their new country “till the sun grows dim with age, and this earth returns to chaos.” Those incendiary words and deeds notwithstanding, the Spy reported, “The greatest decency and good order was observed, and at a suitable time each man returned to his respective home.”

—from Chapter Two of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest

Image Credit: “John Hancock’s Defiance: July 4, 1776,” by Currier & Ives, New York, c1876, Library of Congress Prints and Photography Division.

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001

Proof Positive: Fewer Trees Mean Higher Temps

In the back of our rock garden, shaded on three sides by arborvitae and neighboring trees, stands a chest-high, white, capped PVC tube with holes drilled along its sides. Beneath the tube is a wooden stake; attached to the stake are two small climate sensors, one at the top and one at the bottom.

Every day for several months, now, the sensors have been silently recording temperature changes and related data from our garden. Occasionally, a group of graduate and undergraduate students from Clark University’s Geography Department, which owns the equipment, come by to download the data onto a laptop. We chat, they pet our aging golden retriever, who is most curious about any visitors, and then go on their way.

That data, as well as similar information collected from a handful of other sensors placed around Worcester in a variety of spaces with varying tree canopy, have formed the basis of a study this summer about how tree cover affects land surface temperature.

A Ten-degree Drop in Temp Where Trees are Present

The findings, presented on August 1 by undergraduates participating in Clark’s Human-Environment Regional Observatory (HERO) project, are significant: Trees reduce temperature near the ground by between 4 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

No surprise for anyone who seeks shelter under a tree on a hot summer’s day. But well worth quantifying and analyzing, given the significant number of trees lost to the Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation here—nearly 32,000 since the eradication effort began in 2008.

About 22,000 trees have been replanted, since, but more trees, still, have been lost to other, human-driven factors. According to a May 21, 2013 op-ed piece by Clark Geography faculty Deborah Martin and John Rogan, between 2008 and 2010, the city lost another 30,000-plus trees to urban development.

Without Tree Cover, Hotter Temps and Higher Energy Bills

To better understand the temperature impact of deforestation and replanting, the HERO student team analyzed satellite images of land surface temperature in Worcester. They compared two periods: 2007-2010, when most of the ALB-infested and at-risk trees were removed, and 2010-2012, when replanting efforts intensified.

The results are striking. In the Burncoat-Greendale neighborhoods that were hardest hit by the beetle, land surface temperatures increased by nearly 2 degrees to a whopping 16 degrees Fahrenheit after trees were removed (1-9 degrees Celcius).

By contrast, during the replanting phase, land surface temperatures began to slip slightly, by nearly a degree Fahrenheit. Given that new plantings are still saplings, it will be decades before neighbors can once again enjoy the cooling comfort of trees on a hot summer’s day.

Hotter temperatures translate into higher energy bills. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst found that the presence of trees saved $85 in cooling costs for the average Burncoat resident.

Shared Losses and a Sense of Sacrifice

For now, until the new trees grow taller, higher energy costs will be the norm for neighborhoods stripped of their old, shady tree canopy—just one impact profoundly felt by residents of the affected areas.

Those impacts were the focus of a second team of HERO students, who conducted and analyzed dozens of interviews with residents, government officials and other policy makers to define how tree loss has affected the community’s sense of place.

Even as neighbors grieved the changed landscape, higher energy bills, lowered property values, lack of comforting shade and less attractive views, many of the stakeholders interviewed agreed that the crisis had some unexpected benefits: improved communications between government officials and citizens, increased funding to replant an aging urban forest, and a stronger sense of neighborhood commitment and environmental awareness.

Admirably, residents in the most affected neighborhoods also recognized that their sacrifice of infested trees most likely saved the city, region, and—we hope—the great northern maple forests from ALB devastation.

The HERO students’ presentation concluded a summer of research and the second year of a three-year National Science Foundation grant, headed by Associate Professors Martin and Rogan. The undergraduate teams included students from Clark and around the country.

The students are heading home, now, for a few weeks of well-deserved rest until the fall semester begins. I weeded the back of my rock garden, to make it easier for the next group to download data. Until they return, the sensors continue to silently record temperature changes in my little, tree-shaded corner of the world.

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

Arbor Day Reminder: Protect Our Urban Forests

spring_trees_cropIt’s been one long, cold spring so far here in Worcester, but the trees are finally in bloom. The Norway and sugar maples that line so many miles of our city’s streets are bursting with pale green flowers. Cylindrical Callery pears shyly show their snowy petals. A few magnolias offer cream and purple blooms to the sky.

It’s an appropriate welcome for Arbor Day, marked in Massachusetts and in most states on the last Friday of April.

Proposed in 1872 by Nebraska newspaper journalist and editor J. Sterling Morton as a way to promote tree planting to create wind breaks, shade, fuel and building materials for the vast Nebraska Territory, Arbor Day soon caught on across the U.S. By 1885, it had become a legal holiday in Nebraska—the same year that Massachusetts first observed the tree planting celebration.

Worcester’s First Arbor Day Shadowed by Deforestation

Worcester marked the Commonwealth’s first Arbor Day on April 30, 1885, by planting nearly 500 trees, thanks largely to the efforts of the Worcester Grange: 413 shade trees (mostly maples), and 80 fruit trees and ornamentals, to be precise.

Standing on a stage bedecked with flowers and potted plants in Horticultural Hall, before a canvas inscribed “Our first Arbor Day—may it take as firm and lasting a hold on the hearts of the people as the trees take root in the soil,” State Grange Master James Draper urged an enthusiastic audience to plant trees. Draper’s concerns about dwindling timber resources and deforestation around Worcester were echoed by Stephen Salisbury III, a member of the city’s Parks Commission.

“It is a matter of common knowledge . . . that the timberlands of the country were disappearing,” reported the next day’s Worcester Daily Spy. “Something more than Arbor Day was needed to prevent utter desolation in New England. Those who participated in its observance, however, would always be honored and their service would be appreciated.”

19th Century Forests Depleted by Centuries of Waste

Deforestation in Massachusetts—the result of centuries of wasteful timber harvesting for fuel, potash and building materials, as well as clear cutting for farmland—had become a serious problem by the mid-19th century. Writing in 1846, botanist George B. Emerson warned that the Commonwealth’s wood-based industries, such as ship building and furniture manufacturing, had so depleted native forests that the state was rapidly becoming depending on timber imported from Maine and New York.

In Massachusetts, deforestation peaked about 1860, when roughly two-thirds of the state was open land, compared to one-tenth in 1800; many Central Massachusetts hill towns had cleared more than 75 percent of upland area by midcentury.

Arbor Day was one step in a long process of reversing that trend. Today, Massachusetts in one of the most forested states in the U.S., with nearly 71 percent tree cover, compared to a national average of 34 percent. According to David Nowak of the U.S. Forest Service, there are about 273 million trees in Massachusetts, moderating climate, stabilizing soil, controlling storm run-off, improving air quality, sheltering animals and beautifying our world.

Urban Tree Canopy Threatened by Development

But that green canopy is once again in jeopardy. Here as throughout the country, development is chipping away at urban forests, replacing trees with buildings and impervious surfaces, such as roads and parking lots.

Nationally, according to Nowak, 17 out of 20 major cities have experienced a significant decline in tree cover during the first decade of the new millennium. On average, we’re losing 4 million trees annually.

It’s a trend we ignore at our peril. Just as deforestation surrounding Worcester in the mid-19th century caused observable changes in climate and growing conditions, so a loss of trees as we continue to expand cities and suburbs will degrade our natural environment.

This past year, Worcester intensified planting to help offset the many trees lost to the Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation. Our streets are lined with young saplings, still taking root after the cold, harsh winter. It will be decades before they shade streets like their aging sylvan neighbors. On this Arbor Day, our 128th, their future, and our city’s, is in our hands.

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

End in Sight for Worcester’s Beetle Battle

USDA's Clint McFarland inspects trees infested with the Asian longhorned beetle, From "Bugged: The Race to Eradicate the Asian Longhorned Beetle" 20120, photo by Stavros BasisOnly 13 Asian Longhorned Beetles were caught within the Greater Worcester quarantine area during all of 2012. That’s significant progress in the four-and-a-half-year fight to eradicate the black-and-white spotted insect that has gnawed its way through tens of thousands of trees in the city and surrounding towns, feasting on maples and other hardwoods over the past decade-plus.

According to Clint McFarland, director of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in Worcester, his team has found pockets of ALB infestations in Shrewsbury, Holden, West Boylston, Boylston and Worcester over the past year, but all have been or are in process of being contained.

The key is finding infestations before the mature beetles emerge from host trees. It takes one to two years for the beetles to develop inside the host. If the infected trees can be discovered and removed during that window, the beetle larvae are destroyed.

Lazy Beetles Help APHIS Eradication Effort

And if the beetles emerge, chewing quarter-sized holes through branches and trunks to venture outside? You need to catch them early, before they mate and lay eggs in new host trees. Fortunately, when the mature beetles first climb out of their trees, they don’t travel far.

“The beetles are lackadaisical,” says McFarland. “They would rather walk from one tree to the next than fly. And they tend to return to their home tree.”

The fact that the beetles are coach potatoes has given the USDA a significant edge in the eradication fight. In 2010, for example, when an infestation was discovered in six trees on the grounds of Faulkner Hospital, across from the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, McFarland says they found two holes in trees where beetles had emerged. Soon after, they caught the two ALB culprits wandering nearby. The infected trees were destroyed, the site has been monitored since, and he believes that pocket has been contained.

APHIS has surveyed more than 3 million potential host trees within the 110 square miles of the Greater Worcester quarantine zone since McFarland’s team went into action in 2008, and removed about 31,000, mostly in the heavily infected Burncoat neighborhood. That represents about one percent of the surveyed urban forest. Many of those trees have since been replaced with diverse, beetle-resistant saplings.

Pockets of Beetle Infestations Still Remain

Still, the process has been and continues to be a painful one for neighborhoods where trees need to be cut down to halt the beetle’s advance. McFarland says many trees on a 14-acre plot of town land in Shrewsbury near Ireta Road were heavily infested, requiring “complete host removal” with town permission, angering neighbors who have lost their privacy screen. Though the land will be replanted with saplings, it will be years before the landscape regains its lush tree canopy.

McFarland says the goal, whenever an infested pocket is discovered, is to limit the number of trees that must be removed and continue to monitor the site for indications that the beetles have spread. Infected sites are surveyed three times over a period of years to ensure eradication has been successful.

Imidacloprid, the same insecticide found in flea collars and used to treat lawn grubs, has been employed to inoculate endangered trees near an infestation, but only with landowner permission, and with careful monitoring of possible risks to groundwater and soil quality. McFarland says the insecticide is very effective in killing ALB larvae, but the treatment only lasts for a year.

It will take at least another two years of surveillance to find what McFarland expects will be the last infected trees in Greater Worcester, and another decade to be sure the beetles are gone for good.

Infected Firewood Presents Greatest Risk

In the meantime, he says the biggest risk of another outbreak is “human movement”—in particular, when people take firewood that contains beetle larvae outside the quarantine zone. If the wood is infected and left to cure for a year or more, the mature beetles can emerge and start a new infestation in live trees nearby.

“People are trying to be chivalrous. They leave their unused firewood at a campsite for the next person,” he says. “That scares me because it increases the chances of the ALB’s spread.”

The potential consequences of an ALB infestation in the great northern hardwood forests of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine would be so dire—sugar maples are a beetle favorite—that all three states have enacted programs to confiscate any firewood that people bring across borders and exchange it for “clean” cords.

In Massachusetts, McFarland says, the Department of Conservation and Recreation won’t allow any firewood to be brought into state camp grounds and provides safe firewood, instead. “We need to buy local, burn local,” he says.

Of all the communities that have been devastated by the ALB—in Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and now, Ohio—Worcester has the dubious distinction of having the densest infestation for the number of trees here.

New Jersey is on track to declare eradication soon, marking the successful end of their ALB fight that began in 2002. McFarland looks forward to the day when Worcester can hold its own ALB eradication ceremony.

Until then, the watchwords are continued vigilance and citizen awareness. The Asian Longhorned Beetle may be a lazy bug. But we can’t afford to be, too.

Photo Credit: Image of Clint McFarland by Stavros Basis, from Bugged: The Race to Eradicate the Asian Longhorned Beetle by Producer/Director Emily V. Driscoll

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

How Trees Make Our City Livable: Interview on WICN’s “Business Beat”

Thanks to Steve D’Agostino, host of The Business Beat on WICN 90.5FM, I recently joined with Peggy Middaugh, Executive Director of the Worcester Tree Initiative for a half-hour conversation about the importance of Worcester’s urban forest.

Our talk ranged from who planted the first trees in Worcester to why trees are so important to the urban environment, from the Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation and the newest threat, the Emerald Ash Borer, to Worcester’s model public-private partnership to replant the city’s urban forest.

The half-hour program aired Sunday night, February 3, 2013. Enjoy the podcast!

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

With Beetles in Decline, Worcester Gets $3 Million for More Trees

As hors d’oeuvres circulated amidst tree advocates, environmentalists, politicians, government officials and staff, as TV reporters staged interviews and photographers clicked shots, you could hardly hear the person next to you above the excited chatter at Green Hill Park’s Grill on the Hill last night.

The reason? Worcester will benefit from $3 million in state funding over the next two years, a boost for ongoing efforts to replant tens of thousands of trees lost to the Asian Longhorned Beetle within the city and surrounding towns.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray made the official announcement at the festive celebration, which marked the Worcester Tree Initiative’s (WTI) progress since January 2009 toward planting 30,000 new trees by the end of 2014. To date, the public-private partnership, which coordinates efforts by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and many local non-profits, private businesses and citizens, has planted about 23,000 public and private trees in Worcester and neighboring towns affected by the blight.

ALB Crisis a “Call to Action” to Save Worcester’s Urban Forest

Flanked by Congressman Jim McGovern and a coterie of local and state officials, Murray said the ALB crisis had served as “a call to action” to restore Worcester’s aging urban forest. He thanked McGovern for partnering with him to create the WTI and for helping the city acquire an additional $5 million in federal stimulus money over the past two years to boost replanting efforts.

Adding to the evening’s good cheer, the Walmart Foundation, which had previously donated $150,000 to local tree replanting efforts, presented a $50,000 check to the WTI. Local officials also credited CSX Corp.’s Trees for Tracks program for helping to support reforestation work.

Only 13 Beetles Found in 2012

The funding couldn’t arrive at a better time—with the beetles on their way out. According to Clint McFarland, who has been managing ALB eradication efforts for the USDA since the infestation was discovered in 2008, only 13 beetles were caught this past year via their extensive trapping and reporting program. That’s a dramatic decrease from five years ago, when McFarland said they first found “thousands of beetles” in Worcester—indicative of a vast infestation that probably began in the 1990s.

With improved detection methods, including the use of specially trained dogs that can sniff out the scent of ALB excrement, and more efficient beetle traps, McFarland said eradication specialist are now able to isolate and eliminate any newly discovered pockets of infestation.

So the beetles are no longer the biggest threat to Worcester’s trees, old and new. But there is another challenge looming.

Caring for New Trees is Key

As newly planted saplings sprout throughout the city, with the promise of thousands more plantings over the next two years, Worcester must ensure that the young trees grow and thrive. According to WTI Executive Director Peggy Middaugh, recruiting and training many more citizens and business owners to become tree stewards who will water and watch over their neighborhoods’ public trees is essential.

“Our first tree giveaway was like the running of the brides at Filene’s Basement,” said WTI Co-chair Mary Knittle. “Now that the trees are in the ground and looking good, we need to keep the pressure on.”

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

November Light

At this time of year in New England, when most of our trees have shed their leaves, the light sharpens. By 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the shadows are stark, as if the sun had etched black outlines around each blade of grass and carved deep furrows into tree bark.

A couple of Novembers ago, I set out with my then-new video camera to capture this stunning light. I wanted to share how you can see Nature’s subtleties so clearly in all the shades of gray and buff.

Some of this was shot at one of my favorite green spaces, Mass Audubon’s Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton. Well worth a trip before the snow falls and hides all the small wonders beneath a white blanket.

A Tale of Two Hurricanes

The images are stunning and sobering: water flooding New York City streets, beach houses ripped from their foundations, boats bashed by ferocious waves.

The footage is black-and-white. The storm is the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, nicknamed “The Long Island Express.” Without warning, at 2:30 p.m. on September 21, the Category 3 storm that forecasters thought would veer out to sea south of Nantucket smashed into Long Island’s southern shore, bringing 40-foot waves, death and destruction in a path that stretched across Long Island Sound, along the Connecticut coast and Narragansett Bay, then northward—straight over Worcester, Mass., and up the New Hampshire-Vermont border.

“Buildings were partially collapsed,” reported the Worcester Gazette, “roofs ripped off, church steeples toppled, store fronts blown out, trees uprooted, chimneys leveled, signs torn down and the streets littered with glass, tree branches and other debris. There were dangling live wires in many sections. Telephone and electric service, affecting lighting and radio went out of commission.”

With Worcester’s trees, the hurricane was ruthless. In just three hours, the storm downed 3,931 street trees and 11,189 trees in city parks and playgrounds—roughly a third of an estimated 50,000 public trees throughout the city. Thousands of others suffered torn and broken limbs. Working day and night, men from the federal Works Progress Administration helped clear homes and pubic buildings of dangerous branches and fallen trees, but the full repairs would take years. Overwhelmed by the arduous task of recovering from the storm’s damage, Parks and Recreation Executive Director Thomas E. Holland had a “breakdown” and took a six-month leave of absence.

By the weekend, the hurricane’s death toll neared 700, many from Long Island and southern New England. Another 700 were injured. Thousands of homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed, as well as ships, railroads and farms. Damages totaled $306 million, the equivalent of $18 billion today.

The full impact of this week’s devastation from Hurricane Sandy has yet to be determined. Images of flooded subway stations in Manhattan, decimated homes in New Jersey, pulverized beachfronts, roofs caved by fallen trees and fires sparked by downed wires crowd the airwaves and the Internet. Millions are without power in the nation’s most concentrated population center. Thousands of businesses are shuttered. The NYC Transit system is out of commission.

Bloomberg Businessweek estimates the cost of physical damage from Sandy will exceed $20 billion. Then there is all the speculation about lost output, perhaps a $25 billion loss for the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter.

By all those measures, as well as the superstorm’s sheer scope and size, Sandy seems to have lived up to predictions that it would outdo its 1938 predecessor—until this week, the worst storm ever to hit the East Coast.

But there is one very important difference. As of Wednesday morning, at least 46 people have died in the storm—46 people too many, but nowhere near the death toll from the ’38 Hurricane. Modern weather forecasting, advanced crisis planning, improved communications, better emergency response—all contributed to preventing Sandy from becoming an even more overwhelming disaster. With extreme weather becoming the new normal, that is something deserving our civic support and deep gratitude.

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

How to Care for Trees in a Heat Wave

It’s been a long, hot, dry stretch here in Worcester, as elsewhere across the U.S. during this record-breaking heat wave. While it’s nice to have a real summer, the extreme temperatures and lack of rain are placing a lot of stress on our trees, young and old.

The city planted many new street trees this spring. You see them everywhere, waving slender branches, trunks skirted by conical, green plastic water bags. Some look like they are thriving, while others are showing signs of heat stress, their leaves drooping.

Water New Trees Three Times a Week in a Heat Wave
Those green water bags are key to young trees’ survival through this dry, hot period. When filled, the bags slowly release water directly to the trees’ roots, without any run-off or evaporation.

Even under the best of circumstances, new trees need to be watered twice a week, with 5 to 10 gallons each time. When it’s hot and dry, as now, they need a third day of watering, as well.

Mature Trees Need a Good Soaking, Too
Mature trees need water during heat spells, as well. A slow, steady soaking around the base is most effective, using a soaker hose or drip irrigation to conserve water, or a rain barrel with an outlet tap at the bottom. It’s important to soak around the entire base of the tree and to allow the ground to dry out between soakings, so as not to suffocate the roots.

Mulch also helps to retain moisture. It’s best to place two inches of fresh, organic mulch around the base of the tree each spring, after a good ground soaking. Be sure to leave clear the six inches closest the trunk. Ideally, you should mulch the area shaded by the tree, because the root system spreads underground as broadly as the tree’s crown.

We All Need to Care for Our Street Trees
There aren’t enough hours in the day or city forestry staff to water every Worcester street tree on a regular schedule during a heat wave, so it’s important for all of us to care for our trees, young or old, in front of our homes, shading out streets.

Especially if you have a new street tree, monitor the green bag and fill it up twice or three times a week, as needed. In the wake of the Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation, we certainly don’t want to lose any trees from neglect.

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

Tornado Season: Remembering 1953 and 2011

It’s a beautiful, sunny day as I write. Our seemingly endless stretch of rainy days that have been great for trees but dreary for humans has finally broken, and it looks like a fine weekend ahead.

On a beautiful June day like this, it’s hard to imagine a tornado striking Central Massachusetts. But on a muggy June 9, 1953, a devastating EF-4 tornado dropped out of a roiling black cloud near the Quabbin reservoir and hurtled southeast toward Worcester on a 46 mile, 84-minute course of utter destruction.

The Worst Tornado in New England History
Packing winds of up to 338 miles per hour, the mushroom-cloud-shaped funnel exploded homes, pulverized stores, scattered cars like playing cards and sucked out trees by the roots. It ripped off the roof of Norton Company’s brand new machine tool division, crushed half of Assumption College and leveled its convent.

When the storm finally lost force, 94 people were dead, hundreds were injured and thousands, homeless. In Worcester alone, the twister caused more than $37 million in property damage, including more than $285,000 in damage to the city water system, streets and trees.

To help rebuild, the Parks and Recreation Department replanted 1,000 street trees that had been tossed and shredded by one of the most powerful tornadoes in U.S. history. You can see a slide show of the storm here.

Below is an excerpt from a ‘50s documentary about the storm:

10,000 Acres of Woodlands Destroyed by 2011 Western Mass Tornado
June also marks the one-year anniversary of the violent tornado that struck Western Massachusetts. On June 1, 2011, a day of unstable weather caused a supercell thunderstorm that spawned the EF-3 twister, which travelled 39 miles, from Westfield to Charlton, blasting everything in its path.

Three people were killed and 200 injured; 1,400 homes and at least 78 businesses were either damaged or destroyed. Property insurance claims throughout Western and Central Massachusetts exceeded $200 million. The tornado tore through the Brimfield State Forest, reaching its maximum width of a half mile. Almost 10,000 acres of woodlands were destroyed in the storm’s path, as well as 7,500 mature trees in Springfield, alone. Here’s a report from Springfield’s WSHN CBS3 TV:

Springfield and surrounding towns are still rebuilding, and massive reforestation efforts are underway. Still, the memories are jarring. Even today, 59 years after the great Worcester tornado, people who lived through it recall the panic and horror.

In New England, peak tornado season lasts from late spring through early summer. We have a few weeks to go. Here’s hoping the sun keeps shining and we won’t be making more tornado history any time soon.

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

A HERO’s Welcome: Clark Geographers Launch ALB Research

The first, most radical line of defense against an Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation is seemingly simple: Cut down and destroy any infected trees, as well as any nearby trees that are vulnerable to the hardwood-destroying insect.

For Worcester and neighboring towns, since the ALB infestation was discovered here in 2008, that’s meant a loss of nearly 31,000 trees. In the heavily infested Burncoat neighborhood, once lush, canopied streets were decimated by tree removals—prompting enraged citizens and public officials to push back against the USDA’s clear-cutting policy. The result: a much more nuanced approach to managing the infestation that combined infected tree removal with inoculations of threatened trees to mitigate further loss of the urban forest canopy.

Understanding the dynamics of that response—how the ALB infestation has affected the city physically and geographically, how different stakeholders responded to the crisis, and how policy makers and community members have negotiated solutions—is the goal of a three-summer investigation launched this morning by Clark University’s Geography Department and 11 undergraduates from around the country.

A project of Clark’s Human-Environment Regional Observatory (HERO), the research is headed by Associate Professors of Geography John Rogan and Deborah Martin, and funded by a $330,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

“My mother grew up in Worcester,” said Joey Danko, a Clark geography student who became interested in the beetle infestation while working at Worcester’s Ecotarium. “She told me how much the Burncoat neighborhood’s atmosphere changed after the trees came down.”

Fellow HERO undergrad Shannon Palmer, also from Clark, said back home in New Haven, Conn., there’s a magnet on their refrigerator depicting the beetle with the warning, “Watch out for this bug.” By participating in the ALB research project, she hopes to help other communities avoid Worcester’s fate.

Danko, Palmer and Sean Peters, from Mississippi State University, all want to help the Worcester community gain a deeper understanding of the beetles’ impact and to improve communication between the public, policy-makers and scientists. “Where I come from, the public doesn’t trust science,” said Peters.

Two faculty-guided student teams will tackle the project. The first will assess how the beetle has altered density, tree cover and species diversity within the urban forest canopy and predict future changes; the second will assess how those charged with resolving the crisis—government officials, managers and policy-makers—responded to community stakeholders’ concerns.

“Worcester is a potential model for how to respond to future blights,” said Deborah Martin, co-principal investigator. “We hope to learn not only how to be more vigilant, but also how we can best address such problems in the future and work together to find the best solutions without resorting to clear-cutting.”

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.