Springfield Planning To Prepare The Urban Forest For Climate Change

Jul 11, 2019

    The administration of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has awarded a grant to Springfield to help the city better prepare for a changing climate by taking stock of its trees. 

   The city of Springfield will receive $315,000 to help determine the best locations to plant tens of thousands of trees as part of a plan to mitigate the local impacts of a rising global temperature. Part of the grant will pay to expand the tree nursery the city operates.

    Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said the funds awarded Springfield underscore that coastal communities are not the only places that need to prepare for the impacts from a changing climate.

   "Climate change is an issue we are addressing all across the commonwealth," said Theoharides.

    Managing the urban forest is one of the key strategies in the Climate Action and Resilience Plan adopted by the Springfield City Council in 2017.

   The city aims to plant 5,600 trees on public property in the next three years and by 2060 plant an additional 55,000 trees, according to Patrick Sullivan, the city’s parks director.

   "Having that master plan and knowing what (trees )you have and the condition they are in will give use the information we need to request funding, request future grants, or grow the trees in our nursery to reach these goals," said Sullivan.

   The shade afforded by trees can have a dramatic impact on the amount of energy needed to cool buildings. 

    A study by UMass Amherst and the U.S. Forest Service after the 2011 tornado in Springfield found the air temperature was 6-8 degrees warmer in the parts of the city that lost large numbers of trees in the storm.

    "So, it is very important to get those trees planted and create that cooling effect throughout the urban area," said Sullivan.

    To effectively mitigate the potential impacts of climate change, Springfield needs to plant not just more trees, but the right trees, according to City Forrester Alex Sherman.  Expanding the tree nursery located in Forest Park will allow for the development of tree varieties with the best chances for long term survival.

    "I have a lot of different varieties ( in the tree nursery), some on the edge of the hardiness zone as we try to prepare for climate change and think about the future and which trees will do well in our area," explained Sherman.  "I plant them here, and if they do well here, I can put them out on the street and that way I am not planting a tree in front of someones house and it is dead in a year." 

    After visiting the tree nursery to hear the city’s plans, Theoharides lobbied Mayor Domenic Sarno and other city officials to support a bill filed by Gov. Baker that would increase the excise tax paid on real estate transfers to create a dedicated fund for climate change-related infrastructure projects.

   "The funding would go to support the value in people's homes and property that are at risk from climate change," explained Theoharides.

    Baker, who first campaigned for office as a no-tax-increases-Republican, proposes a .2 percent increase to the deeds excise tax that he said would generate about $1 billion over 10 years.

    Real estate groups have opposed it claiming it will add to the state’s already steep housing costs.