Beacon Hill/Back Bay Gain Six Acres of Tree Canopy

If you think you’re seeing more trees around Back Bay and Beacon Hill than you did just a few years ago, it’s not just your imagination.

Between 2014 and 2019, the Back Bay/Beacon Hill tree canopy had a net gain of  six acres (13 acres lost, 19 acres gained), with 125 acres (21-percent canopy coverage) in 2019, compared with 119 acres (20-percent) canopy coverage, according to the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.

Last year, the Parks and Recreation Department released its 2014-2019 Tree Canopy Assessment, which compiled high-quality, high-resolution LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) images captured during airplane flyovers of the city to discover which areas have the most potential for increased tree cover, and how the city’s canopy cover has changed over time.

In Back Bay/ Beacon Hill, net gains were mostly seen on residential, right-of-way (sidewalks), public open space, while the majority of those gains, consistent with citywide trends, are from canopy on sidewalks and open space, according to the Parks and Recreation Department. Currently, the combined neighborhoods resides on 27 percent of canopy on right-of-way (sidewalks); 15 percent residential; 50-percent public open space; 6 percent institutional; and 1 percent mixed-use; and 2 percent commercial.

Citywide, tree canopy can be found in a series of different places – on private property; open space, sometime city- owned or state-owned, privately owned trees; and street trees, said Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space.

Back Bay/Beacon Hill is more densely populated and has fewer backyard trees than places like West Roxbury, said Rev. White-Hammond, and is a combined neighborhood that would have a similar tree-canopy profile to the South End.

“South Boston is also moving in a similar direction due to the density of development,” she added. “It really depends on the development character of the neighborhood, where we see tree canopy.”

Additional canopy growth has been added in sidewalks and in public parks in Back Bay/Beacon Hill, which were mostly “city instigated,” said Rev. White-Hammond, while some institutions have also planted new trees there.

Some older trees  on Commonwealth Avenue are protected, but contrastingly, in parts of the Back Bay where new development has occurred,  trees were removed and replaced with new ones.

But trees are being lost faster than the city can add them, and even then, new trees still need time to mature.

To help protect the city’s tree canopy in the future, as well as to raise further awareness of the issue, the Parks and Recreation Department has embarked on its Urban Forest Plan.

As part of this plan, the city is assessing the existing tree canopy and way to increase it while engaging stakeholders in the process, including a representative from the  Back Bay, said Reverend White-Hammond.

The plan will also include a major component to educate Bostonians on how essential the tree canopy is to healthy city living, she added, which is expected to get underway next year.

“Education is important because a lot of people don’t even think about it,” said Reverend White-Hammond.

An ordinance limiting tree removal, including on residential property where the city has lost trees, will also be filed with the City Council in the spring as part of the plan, she said.

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