Why Trees Are Important

Trees in Lexington: Frequently Asked Questions

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Why Are Trees Important?

Trees have an important role to play in making Lexington a healthier, more livable, and more resilient place to live. Mature trees provide a host of benefits:

· Trees help cool our neighborhoods, both by shading and by evapotranspiration through their leaves. Suburban areas with mature trees are 4 to 6oF cooler than new suburbs without trees.1

· Trees absorb carbon, reducing the impact of global warming. A single mature tree will remove more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year.2 Trees in urban areas are responsible for 20% of all of the carbon sequestration achieved by U.S. forests.3

· Trees promote infiltration, intercept and absorb stormwater, and reduce the impacts of severe storms. Tree roots penetrate compacted soil, opening up channels for infiltration, and their leaves and branches intercept rainfall that then evaporates, reducing stormwater flows.

· Trees improve air quality. Trees remove gaseous air pollution by uptake via leaf pores, and remove particulate matter by deposition on plant surfaces. By lowering temperatures, trees also slow the formation of smog.

· Trees are an important part of the ecological communities that surround and sustain us. A single tree can be home to hundreds of species of insects, fungi, moss, birds, mammals, and plants. Oak trees, for instance, serve as hosts to more than 500 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars which are an important foundation of many wildlife food chains.4

· Trees enhance property values. A range of studies have found increases of about 3 to 10 percent in residential property values associated with the presence of trees and vegetation.5

· Trees contribute to our mental health and well-being. A variety of studies have shown that trees provide a wealth of mental health and quality-of-life benefits, from increased cognitive function to reductions in stress and anxiety6, reduced crime7, and even more rapid recovery from surgery.8

For references and further reading, click here.

Is Lexington Losing Trees?

We think so. Many trees have been lost to development, disease, age, and other factors over the last 30 years, and for many years tree planting did not keep up, though we’re doing better now. We’ll have a clearer answer to this question in a few months: the town has commissioned a tree canopy study that will document trends in our tree coverage.

Does the Town Do Anything to Protect Trees and Promote Their Planting?

Yes!

The town’s Forestry Division within the Department of Public Works, led by our Tree Warden, Chris Filadoro, oversees approximately 15,000 street trees and numerous other trees on public grounds, historic sites, conservation areas, and parkland. The staff of the division is responsible for tree planting, pruning, removal, and general tree care.

The town’s Tree Committee is a citizen body created in 2001 when the town’s tree by-law was enacted. The 7-member committee meets monthly to advise and advocate for policies that promote a robust tree canopy in town.

The most important legal protections for Lexington’s trees stem from two laws:

At the state level, the Public Shade Tree Law (Chapter 87) declares that towns own all trees within street rights-of-way, prohibits anyone from cutting, pruning, or removing these trees without the local Tree Warden’s permission, and establishes a process, including a public hearing, before any such tree can be cut, trimmed, or removed. Read a fact sheet about Chapter 87.

The Town of Lexington provides additional protections through its Tree Bylaw, which requires that any healthy tree of at least 6” diameter that is located within 30’ of the street or 15’ of side and rear lot lines cannot be removed during construction or major renovation without either being replaced or a fee paid to fund tree planting elsewhere in town. See the bylaw for details.

Is There Help Available for Landowners Who Want to Plant a Tree?

Yes! You can ask the town to plant a tree in front of your house. If the spot is within the street right-of-way, you can ask the town to plant a “street tree.” The town will plant it, water it for the first year, and will own it and the responsibility that goes with it.

Or you can ask the town to plant a tree on your property within the front setback (called a “setback tree”). In this case, you sign an agreement with the town promising to water it for the first year, after which its ownership and responsibility pass to you.

Learn more about these options, including how to initiate a request, here.

What Can I Do to Improve Tree Cover in Lexington?

There is a lot you can do, both on your own property and throughout town.

On your own property, take care of the trees you have. If you have any concerns about your trees’ health, or are worried that one presents a danger to your family, house, or car, find a tree company with a certified arborist to advise you. They can suggest what needs to be done to keep your trees in good condition, and if you’re planning construction on your lot, what precautions to take to minimize any damage.

Plant a tree if you have room. Planting a tree is one of the best long-term investments you can make in your property, both financially and, more importantly, for the comfort and health of your family, your town, and the planet. You’ll find lots of good advice on planting and caring for trees, and a list of tree species recommended for planting, in the Tree Committee’s Lexington Tree Management Manual.

In addition, advocate for trees at the town level. Let the Tree Committee and the Select Board know of your interest. When issues about trees come up at Town Meeting, ask your Town Meeting representatives for their support. We’ll try to keep you informed through the Lexington Living Landscapes newsletter. The Lexington Town Meeting Members Association makes it easy to contact the representatives from your precinct; learn how here.