Group Discusses How Climate Change Will Impact Area, Importance of Trees

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Several local groups came together to host an event called “The Latest News in Climate—and How Trees Help” at the Watertown Free Public Library.

The following information was provided by the event organizers:

Jennifer Shakun, an Applied Forest Scientist, and featured speaker at the well-attended “Trees for Climate Change in Watertown” symposium on March 23, brought dramatic news about climate changes in the Northeast. Local leaders, whose talks followed hers, described in-town, tree-related resources and activities available to Watertown residents.

Climate Changes in the Northeast

Shakun told attendees that the Northeast has been warming faster than many parts of the world. Since 1895, the average NE temperature has climbed 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit, (1.6 degrees Celsius), which is higher than the average global rise during that time. Not only has Massachusetts’s average temperature risen, but also its extreme temperatures. The result: longer growing seasons, milder winters, and more coastal storms, which lead to more rainfall. Here in the Northeast, we have seen more deluges than anywhere else in the United States. Sea level in our area has risen 11” since 1922. The Northeast is predicted to have more rain in spring and fall and less in summer than it has had in former years. Shakun said that, in the future, we can expect all of the above. We are likely to have more rain than snow.

Shakun, a forest expert, who works at Manomet in Plymouth, a sixty year old nonprofit, consults to corporate and private landowners, via the Climate Smart Land Network. She notes that higher temperatures have led to wide tree mortality globally, not just in dry areas. Pests are moving more into the Northeast and the seasonal time of their arrival has shifted somewhat. On the one hand, since trees are nourished by CO2, its increase has led to fertilization of trees. On the other hand, increased rain leads to waterlogging of soil, which makes trees more vulnerable to falling from the wind. There is a lot going on in forests and on planted urban streets!

Benefits of Urban “Forests” for Watertown

As to Watertown’s streets, Shakun noted that urban plantings offer many benefits. They help reduce the heat of heat islands. They slow down winds and they decrease storm water runoff. Since they eat CO2 as their main meal, they help reduce the CO2 in our air and, thus, offer better back yard breathing for children and adults alike.

Town Initiatives and Citizen Opportunities

David Meshoulam, a former teacher and current director of “Teens for Trees,” a program run by Trees for Watertown and founded in 2017, spoke next. During the group’s second year, the teens did a valuable service for the town by surveying its street trees. They inventoried 3,567 of an estimated 4,500 trees in town. They learned how to prune and took weekly field trips as well. The program was a big success. They have room for 6-10 more teens in the coming season. Contact: david@tfwteensfortrees.org or go online to tfwteensfortrees.org.

Chris Hayward, Watertown’s Forest Superintendent and Tree Warden was the third speaker. Hayward said that they plant about 160 trees a year, most by request. Planting time is April-June and September-November. Residents can also ask the town to plant a tree in their yard. If the planting site is within twenty feet of the sidewalk, it might well be possible. Contact: chayward@watertown-ma.gov

Libby Shaw, Watertown’s longtime tree activist, wrapped up the meeting. Libby is president of Trees for Watertown, a group that promotes the planting and preservation of shade trees, serves as an educational resource, and works to support a healthy urban forest in Watertown. Shaw said she hopes that we can return to neighborhood planting parties.

Watertown needs a lot more trees, especially because the town has been losing a lot of mature shade trees. She invited residents to join “Trees for Watertown” and offered volunteers a pruning class plus good learning and fellowship. elshaw@mit.edu

This program was sponsored by Watertown Environment and Energy Efficiency Committee, under the leadership of Meredith Fields, and co-sponsored by Trees for Watertown and Watertown Faces Climate Change. The Conservation Commission, Stormwater Advisory Committee, Friends of Bees, Elders Climate Action, and Neighborhood Solar took part in information tables to tell about their activities.

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