Our Trees Are In Trouble

Here in Worcester and surrounding Central Massachusetts towns, since 2008 we’ve lost nearly 31,000 trees to the Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB)—a black-and-white speckled, inch-long insect that destroys maples and other hardwoods.

First discovered in Brooklyn in 1996, the beetles have attacked thousands of trees in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts and Ohio over the past decade. In July 2010, the beetle was found in Boston. If not stopped here, the ALB could devastate the vast sugar maple forests of New England.

Worcester’s ALB Crisis Predicted in Trees at Risk

Worcester’s ALB crisis is a lesson for cities everywhere to treasure and care for their urban forest. But it’s not the first such lesson, here in Worcester or elsewhere. Chestnut blight, Dutch Elm disease, ice storms and hurricanes, car exhaust and vandalism, sidewalk crowding, gas lines, road salt, dogs—all threaten the health and lifespan of city trees.

Evelyn Herwitz began writing Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest more than 20 years ago, long before the ALB was discovered in Worcester, when she first realized that nearly a third of the city’s street trees were sick or dying from lack of funding and general neglect. As she researched and learned more about Worcester’s trees and urban forests elsewhere, she predicted the beetle’s arrival due to Worcester’s high concentration of maple trees.

Trees at Risk tells the story of Worcester’s urban forest—how and why public trees were planted; how local politics, personalities, geography, forces of nature and changing values about the environment have shaped and rearranged our landscape; and why our endangered public trees are a precious legacy that must be preserved.

Why City Trees Matter
Without trees, our urban communities are hotter in summer, colder in winter and dirtier year round. Trees make cities livable: They cool us with shade, protect us from wind, filter pollutants, control flooding and soil erosion, provide homes for wildlife and a green respite from stress. Dying and neglected street trees signal a neighborhood in decline. Lush tree canopies mean higher property values.

Trees at Risk—A Tale of Many Cities
The threats to our street trees are many and complex, both manmade and natural. Like most cities throughout the U.S., Worcester placed the care of its urban forest at the bottom of municipal priorities, until a crisis hit.

The city has responded to the ALB infestation with characteristic grit, forming a public-private partnership to replant 30,000 trees. We’ve begun to make progress restoring our green canopy in afflicted sections of the city, ensuring the beetle is eradicated, replanting street trees and teaching much-needed tree stewardship. But there is still much work to be done, to ensure that we never again risk such a devastating loss.

Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest is a local history, but also a case study, because Worcester’s experience, both in the past and now in real time, stands as a reminder to us all: Never take our trees for granted.

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