WELLFLEET — Are Wellfleet voters ready to join the handful of Massachusetts towns that regulate the removal of well-established trees on public and private property?
They will have the opportunity to weigh in on that question at the June 11 annual town meeting, thanks to a citizens’ petition for a “tree preservation nonbinding resolution,” submitted by Harriet Korim, who sees it as a way to “raise the question and get the ball rolling.” The resolution will be taken up as Article 48.
Trees play an important role in creating green space, providing wildlife pathways, and combating climate change, Korim said. “Trees are miracles and most of us intuitively feel that,” she said. But a recent case of major tree-clearing on Route 6 is a highly visible example of the need for more tree protection, she added.
Korim said she was inspired by a short video made by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and the British writer George Monbiat discussing the important role of trees in addressing climate change. In the film, Monbiat calls trees “a natural climate solution.”
“It would be great to show it at the town meeting,” Korim said — although with 54 articles on the June 21 warrant that does not seem likely to happen.
The stated purpose of the resolution is to protect mature trees by instituting a requirement to replace those that are removed from specific protected areas on a lot during major construction or to pay into a tree fund to support the town’s tree-planting and maintenance efforts.
The resolution, if approved, will authorize the select board to establish a five-member tree preservation bylaw committee. The panel, which would include one member of the conservation commission and one member of the zoning board of appeals, would draft a bylaw proposal protecting trees on residential, municipal, and commercial properties during major demolition or construction activity.
The bylaw proposal would undergo a review by the select board prior to being placed on the 2023 town meeting warrant.
The provisions in the nonbinding resolution are merely suggestions for a tree bylaw committee to consider. Among them are the establishment of a tree protection zone to include the land within a lot’s 25-foot setback area; the option of replacing a mature tree that must be removed with a tree in another location on the property; and an option for property owners who can’t replace trees that are removed to pay into a tree fund that the town will use to plant trees in residential areas.
The suggested bylaw would apply only to trees that are at least six inches in diameter and located in a lot’s protection zone. It would not apply to subdivisions of land under the town’s subdivision rules or to areas on a property that are under the jurisdiction of the Wetlands Protection Act. It would also not apply to trees that must be taken down for public safety reasons.
Provincetown, Barnstable, and Orleans have tree protection bylaws, but they are restricted to trees in public rights of way and on town property.
Elspeth Hay said she signed on to the citizens’ petition as a way to begin the discussion of tree protection, particularly for older trees. “You can’t just replace those overnight,” she said. “Given the ecosystem and climate challenges we face, saving those big trees is one of the easiest actions we can take.”
The last day to register to vote at town meeting is Friday, May 20.