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Tree Wardens
Buck Abbey, ASLA, Green Laws Organization, New Orleans

Washington D.C.'s McMillian Plan of 1902 by the Senate Park Commission proposed replacing the Mall's Victorian landscaping with a fairly narrow expanse of grass to make way for museums and other cultural elements along the Mall's east-west axis, reflecting pools on the southern and western ends and stone terraces around the Washington Monument. Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Early Tree Laws
Public trees have a history that goes back to 1630, a time when most town trees had been removed from within settlements. The Puritan founders of New England set aside communal woodlands to supply firewood, building materials, fencing and other elements to sustain the community. Other forested areas were preserved for church, park, school and cow lots. Many of these forested acres exist today as New England "town forests."

Many of the early New England towns had ordinances to protect shade trees on the village green. Municipal tree regulations to protect public trees from damage were in effect in the Boston area as early as 1885. Wire nails embossed with a letter were driven into public trees to help identify them.

The City Beautiful
The 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition spawned the City Beautiful Movement that in turn led to the development of urban design, zoning law and tree ordinances that brought order and beauty to industrializing cities.

The Laurel Hill Association of Stockbridge, Mass., is credited as the first village improvement society in America (1853). This city planted large numbers of trees on public grounds.

Washington, D.C., developed a street-planting program in 1872 to carry out the ideas of the L'Enfant Plan of 1791. D.C. followed up with the Senate Park Commission's McMillian Plan of 1902. The plan focused on monuments and the park system. Both plans cultivated beaux-arts ideas as seen on the streets and boulevards of Paris. By 1909, nearly 95,000 street trees were planted in D.C. A few still survive.

The first modern state statute (public tree enabling law) was created in New Jersey in 1893 to plant shade trees on the highways of local municipalities. Other early tree ordinances were drafted in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

The Massachusetts Tree Wardens' and Foresters' Association was founded in 1913. It's a forum for municipal tree managers to share their concerns and to promote the preservation of public shade trees. Members include tree wardens, city foresters, utility representatives, commercial arborists and companies, education professionals and citizen tree advocates.

Tree Wardens
City improvement associations wanted scientific methods applied to trees by trained and experienced professional foresters. From the early nail laws came the 1899 New England mandate that all cities and towns have a tree warden responsible for trees on public property. The tree warden mandate is still in effect today in Massachusetts.

Cities appoint a tree warden from a list of registered voters. Back then there was no qualification for a tree warden other than an interest in trees. Today it requires qualified training in arboriculture. The warden could appoint deputies and worked with the park agency, landowners, and state and federal agencies. The tree warden created a shade tree preservation program, planting/removing, pruning, fertilizing, feeding, mulching and keeping trees insect and disease free. The work of the tree warden was/is funded by community taxes.

The New England tree warden tradition teaches us that city trees are important. A beautiful, livable city cannot do without trees or without professional care. Should readers care to contact the author, get in touch by email or call Abbey Associates Landscape Architecture (225) 766.0922.

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June 18, 2019, 8:48 am PDT

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