New trees adding to Dot canopy

It will take a some work to approach Mayor Thomas Menino's goal of 100,000 new trees in Boston by 2020, announced in April, but a few gaps in Dorchester's tree canopy are starting to look leafy.

"I love it," said Gloria Vieira of the Annapolis Neighborhood Association. "Not only does it make the neighborhood look better, but I think it brings the community together. Now, when people walk the neighborhood, they feel comfortable saying hello. They take pride in it."

The City Roots program from the Urban Ecology Institute (UEI) at Boston College helped Vieira organize the planting of nine trees and shrubs in her neighborhood this year, and 10 the year before. Other community groups planted new trees in Ronan Park, Sharon's Park, Codman Cemetery, and Dix Street.

UEI and other non-profits in the Boston Urban Forestry Coalition are a key ingredient in the city's Grow Boston Greener tree-planting initiative, and as such, the city is helping the groups to raise funds from large corporate donors.

Next year, City Roots is ramping up their program to offer 12 slots to Dorchester community groups. But UEI is also planning to start a number of new independent programs targeted to specific "priority zones" in Dorchester and other parts of the city.

"We start applications in February," said Sherri Brokopp, director of UEI's sustainable cities program. "We provide money for trees and hire a forester to help choose the right trees and locations."

Grow Boston Greener's goal is to bring Boston's citywide canopy to 35 percent, up from the 29 percent BUFC found in a recent satellite image-based survey. Other parts of the effort include a city plan to replace street trees and the state's intention to add 1,200 trees to state-owned parks in the city.

Dorchester's canopy coverage was 26 percent, but it is much thicker in the southern half of the neighborhood. Taken separately, northern Dorchester has an 18 percent canopy and the southern half 32 percent. Mattapan, partly because it includes Mt. Hope and Calvary cemeteries, has an ample 38 percent tree cover.

In addition to helping UEI and other non-profits in the BUFC raise funds, the city is also getting its own worker's hands dirty.

"The mayor is making it part of his commitment, replacing the empty [street] tree pits across the city," said chief of energy and environmental services James Hunt III. "Every neighborhood is going to experience investment. Those that need a little more: Bowdoin/Geneva, the Four Corners area, are areas that will certainly see some early investment."

There are 3,500 tree pits in the city that are empty or have dead trees in them, said Hunt, but new Americans with Disabilities Act regulations require a seven-foot wide sidewalk in order to allow a street tree. Only 2,500 of the city's tree pits are replaceable under the law. To fill those by 2012, Mayor Thomas Menino included $500,000 in the city's five-year capital budget, a $400,000 increase.

Other opportunities for greening include the Dorchester Avenue Project and plans for renovations to Peabody Square, said Hunt. The comment period on planning for traffic and pedestrians on Dorchester Ave. is nearing completion, said Richard O'Mara, vice president of the Lower Mills Civic Association, but there is still time and money to green it up.

"I think substantial funds are left for tree beautification and things of that sort," O'Mara said.

In Peabody Square, Hunt said the city plans to study greening the square in addition to improving the traffic flow.

"Trees will be utilized as part of this project," Hunt said.

A third part of the initiative will come from the state. In April, when the Grow Boston Greener initiative was kicked off, Priscilla Geigis, then the acting commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, announced a 10-year commitment to spend $60,000 a year on planting trees on DCR property in the city for a total of 1,200 trees. She also committed to providing $20,000 a year for Arbor Day tree plantings in the city.

So far, the rate of nearly 7,700 tree plantings per year needed to reach 100,000 by 2020 has yet to be seen, but the city is inching forward, and the trees are starting to take root.