A row of white pine trees alongside a dirt pathway near the Center Recreation Area
As a result of resident advocacy, about 1/3 of 37 white pine trees near the Center Recreation Area will be preserved in a compromise proposed by the Town to balance safety with the neighborhood's attachment to the trees. (Courtesy of Dylan Clark)

After months of back-and-forth between a few hundred abutting residents and Town staff about whether 37 white pines near the Center Recreation Area must be cut down, the Town has decided on a new path forward: 25 trees will be cut down (including one that has already been removed), while 12 will remain standing. 

This outcome represents a middle ground between the Town’s original plan to cut down all 37 trees and the residents’ position that the majority of the trees could and should be preserved. 

“It was good to have the community feedback,” Public Works Director David Pinsonneault said. “We tried to come up with a plan that worked for both alleviating the hazard concern, but also being sensitive to the neighborhood.”

The compromise follows the compilation of a second, more detailed tree report by Town-contracted arborist Tom Brady in early June. After his original report in February recommended that all 37 trees be cut down, over 300 residents expressed opposition to this course of action, as previously reported

These residents contracted Applied Plant and Soil Scientist Normand Helie to complete an independent report on the state of the trees; this report included tree-by-tree individual recommendations, and concluded that the vast majority of trees could be preserved with the right pruning

Both arborists met with Pinsonneault and resident spokesperson Jerry Harris “underneath the pine trees” in early June to discuss their conflicting recommendations, Harris wrote. Pinsonneault followed up with the compromise plan June 23 after consulting further with Town Counsel and Brady.

Brady’s second report documented the individual conditions of 35 trees, and ultimately recommended that “strong consideration be given for the removal of 32 of the 35…trees in question” – a small change from his original recommendation. One of the original 37 trees, which both Helie and Brady had noted was in the worst condition, was removed by the Town around late May; Pinsonneault said this tree had posed “an immediate hazard.” It’s unclear why Brady’s second report documented the state of 35 trees, rather than 36. Brady referred a request for comment on the compromise to the Town’s Department of Public Works. 

Despite Brady’s more conservative recommendation, “We do think that those [12] trees should be ok,” Pinsonneault said. “They were in fairly good condition.”

A solid replanting plan will be critical to protecting several of the remaining 12 white pines from the elements, Pinsonneault explained. In documenting individual tree conditions, Brady observed that several of the 12 trees ultimately selected for preservation were in decent shape – but his report had still recommended removing most of these due to concern about wind exposure following the removal of surrounding trees in worse condition. 

Pinsonneault acknowledged this concern, but said “extensive replanting afterwards…will help [the remaining stand-alone trees].”

Harris, the spokesperson for now 400+ residents, expressed mixed feelings about the compromise reached. “This result isn’t a complete success, but it is more successful than the original plan to cut down all 37 trees,” he wrote in an email, adding the the group “set an example of holding an emotionally-laden discussion openly and transparently.”

“Both arguments were recognized as rational even though they reached different conclusions,” he wrote. Still, “It is sad and disappointing that our efforts did not result in the preservation of more of these beautiful, iconic trees.”

The resident-contracted arborist, Helie, felt the​ Town’s compromise plan still did not preserve enough trees. “There is no reason for me to be satisfied with the Town’s decision…when 36 white pine trees could be pruned and conserved for the next generation,” Helie wrote in an email. “This was a poor decision and demonstrates a weak understanding of the species.” He added that while removing trees is sometimes necessary, “that should be a decision based on probability not fear.”

The Town intends to remove the remaining trees “before school starts,” Pinsonneault said, since the area is very busy during the academic year. That means the Town plans to remove 24 trees “before September.” The Town will likely secure exact dates with a contractor in the next week and will notify the neighborhood once those are finalized, he added.

The Town will collaborate with residents on a replanting design. Residents have already selected a consultant from Weston Nurseries to work with the Town on this plan. 

Ideally, the Town will begin planting new trees as soon as this fall – but this timeline is contingent on tree stock availability, which, like other resources, has been impacted by pandemic supply chain delays, Pinsonneault said. Otherwise, new trees will be planted in the spring and fall of 2023, he said.

“Tree preservation will require us to stay informed and engaged,” Harris wrote, encouraging residents to attend Tree Committee meetings and get involved with Lexington Climate Action Now (LexCAN). “I see the 37 Pines as a step forward to actions needed to preserve more trees next time.”

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  1. Everybody is recognizing the benefit of trees in relation to climate change. We should make every effort to preserve trees, especially large ones.

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