Our Opinion: Trees, tree program need room to grow

As the poet Joyce Kilmer wrote: "I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree." Thanks to a worthy Massachusetts program and a selfless effort by a Pittsfield organization, we'll get to see more of them around the city.

Through its Greening the Gateway Cities program, the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) is financing the planting of trees in certain qualifying cities, including Pittsfield (Eagle, August 15). There are sound, practical reasons for the program, including energy savings from the shade trees provide, improved wildlife habitat, reduced stormwater runoff into rivers and significant increase in property values. Even more intriguing are studies provided by the EEA indicating reduced rates of ADHD and asthma among children who live on tree-lined streets.

The state program has targeted areas in the city with relatively fewer trees, such as Westside, Morningside and downtown, because studies also show that the benefits of tree cover in terms of carbon absorption and oxygen emission are more demonstrable when large spaces are forested for the first time, rather than adding density to areas with plenty of trees.

The trees and their installation are provided free by the state. All a homeowner within a target area must do is agree to accept the tree and water it for two years until it's established. Then the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), an agency of the EEA, visits the property to help in determining location and species of the tree, digs the hole and plants it. The actual work of knocking on doors and convincing homeowners to accept the state's benificence is performed by volunteers from the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT), a non-profit group that pursues environmental interests ranging from river cleanup to wildlife conservation.

If there is one minor blemish marring the beauty of a plan that so seamlessly combines esthetic, health and environmental benefits, it arises from the nature of the bureaucratic beast. According to Jane Winn, executive director of BEAT, the Greening program's funding is restricted to trees planted within specific boundaries defined by the EEA. "We can't change the lines," she said, adding that there are property owners who would very much like to accept the free tree offer, but find themselves outside the targeted areas. Ms. Winn is proposing a "land swap," where areas within the eligible zones that cannot be planted — such as parks or parking lots — be counted as a credit and their square footage assigned to spaces outside the boundary lines. Trees, after all, do their work heedless of arbitrary boundaries drawn on a map.

BEAT representatives hope to meet soon with officials to iron out these difficulties, and we urge the EEA to see the wisdom of putting some flexibility into its regulations. Greening the Gateway Cities is too worthy a program to be tripped up by needless red tape.


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