Sustainable Watertown ceased operations in 2016.
This site remains up for historical reference, but is no longer maintained. Thanks for visiting.

Trees along Greenough Boulevard

Dear Sustainable Watertown:
The following is a thread of letters about damage to trees along the river at Greenough Blvd. Happily, the Commissioner of DCR and the Watertown Tree Warden have agreed to a halt to any more “pruning” of trees along the river. We do need to show our support and the need for a coherent policy for the trees here and all over town, so no agency, or NSTAR can simply order the destruction of trees.
I encourage you to write simple notes of support for the Restoration project and a sensible, green, and healthy policy for the trees in our town. Thanks.

Letter from Tree Warden Christopher Hayward with the good news:
Hi Barbara:

Its already done. I spoke with DCR reps yesterday and requested a cease and desist on tree maintenance until we can sit down for some follow up discussion to what has already been done. They have agreed.

Thank you for contacting me.


Christopher J. Hayward, MCA
Conservation/Preservation Agent, Tree Warden
Town of Watertown l 149 Main St. l Watertown MA 02472 l 617-972-6426

-----Original Message-----
From: Barbara []
Sent: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 6:30 PM
To: Hayward, Christopher J.
Subject: Trees along the river at Greenough Blvd

Hi, Chris,
Maureen O'Sullivan has alerted us to the damage caused by indiscriminate cutting of trees and branches along the river by Greenough Blvd. With the restoration of the area by the Solomon Foundation and supposedly the DCR, there is no excuse for this. Would you please become involved in stopping the cutting immediately and helping develop a sensible and green policy that actually supports our trees instead of making them more vulnerable.
Barbara Ruskin
member, Sustainable Watertown
140 Spring Street
Letter with phone numbers and emails for your letters and calls.
Thank you for the emails & phone calls in support of this. It was a shock to see the destruction caused in that area last week. The photos only capture part of it. The full extent of the damage is worse when viewed in person.

The DCR is currently reviewing the situation and may make a decision on it today which is why it is critical for people to get objections in by phone call & email this afternoon if possible. The problem is, the damage is being reviewed by the person who "oversaw" it, Matt Thurlow & his crew. I have not been informed of any independent, objective evaluation taking place.

I strongly recommend that everyone who has time, contact the DCR today. The DCR contacts listed below would be the # 1 people to contact. They need to hear your voice. You can cc. town officials and reps and Herb Nolan of the Riverfront Restoration Project, however make sure to address your email to the DCR personnel people listed below.

I spoke with the DCR a short while ago and they advised that they had not heard objections from anyone else. I know a few people did call, in which case I would recommend contacting them again by email to make sure the communication is documented & gets attention. Councilors and town officials are busy & might not get to this today which is why it is important for residents send their communications directly to the DCR.

Thanks again for the support. Hopefully with enough phone calls & emails we can prevent further loss of trees.


DCR Telephone #’s
Main #: 617-626-1250
Carol Sanchez, Commissioner: 617-626-4990.
Matthew Sisk, Deputy Commissioner: 617-626-4964.
Peter Church, Director of Forest Stewardship: 617-626-1461.
Joe Orfant, Arborist Manager & Director of Bureau Of Planning: 617-626-4933
Lisa Bishop, Assistant to the Commissioner: 617-626-1309

DCR Email Addresses

Herb Nolan, The Solomon Foundation, Charles Riverfront Restoration Project:
Phone: 781 431-1440

Watertown & Cambridge Town Officials
"David Webster",
"David Lefcourt",
"Cathy Fosher"

Cc: "Chris Hayward",
"Steve Magoon",
"Mark Sideris",
"Steve Corbett",
"Vinnie Piccirilli",
"Tony Palomba",
"Susan Falkoff",
"Cecilia Lenk",
"Aaron Dushku",
"Angeline Kounelis",
"Ken Woodland",
"Gideon Schreiber",
"Andrea Adams",
"Gerry Mee",
"Will Brownsberger",
"John Lawn"

Trees for Watertown (always looking for members):
"Libby Shaw",
"Anni Clark",
"Genie Johnston",
"William Kahn",

Letter sent yesterday to us:

Dear fellow residents of Watertown,

I hope you don’t mind my writing to you on a different subject to development. This past week I noticed large scale removal of beautiful trees along Greenough Boulevard between the Elliot Bridge and the Arsenal Bridge. Several beautiful trees were either totally cut down or subjected to large structural loss a process that affects the long-term health of a tree. Removing large amounts of a tree can cause hazards by weakening the tree, disrupting the leaf-root ratio and center of gravity, turning well-balanced healthy trees into top-heavy weakened structures at greater risk of falling over in a storm. In addition to the damage to tree health, this area with it’s beautiful scenic views of lush verdant trees has now had large sections turned into an unpleasant sight of matchstick structures with gravestones that were previously camouflaged now in full view.

Links to photos are provided below along with copies of my correspondence to the DCR, town council members and Jonathan Hecht requesting a prompt addressing of the issue. To prevent further destruction of these beautiful trees I am writing to ask if each of you would call and write to the DCR first thing this morning to request that the tree-cutting be stopped until an independent evaluation is conducted and resident input taken into consideration. Contact phone #’s and email addresses are provided below. Please also forward this to your respective groups & others that you know.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter. It may very well help prevent further damage and preserve the remaining beauty of the area.


Maureen O’Sullivan.

To Commissioner Carol Sanchez, DCR
Letter send May 17:

Dear Ms. Sanchez:

I am writing to follow-up on phone calls I made to the DCR on Friday, May 15th. I am cc’ing Trees for Watertown and Sustainable Watertown on this email as well as other residents & groups in town. Since preservation of the beauty & health of trees along Greenough Boulevard is an issue of serious importance, I will be forwarding this separately to additional residents and community groups in town, as well as members of the town council and the state rep, Jon Hecht.

This past Friday, I called the DCR in regards to the recent excessive cutback & removal of beautiful trees along Greenough Boulevard in Watertown & Cambridge. I first spoke with Matt Thurlow who responded to my inquiry with sarcasm & disrespect, providing abrupt answers to a few questions only then refusing to answer any additional ones or discuss valid points that I raised. He said the reason so many trees were cut back and removed was to remove dead wood, create clearance for snow plows and remove invasive species.

I drive and bike ride along that area on a regular basis in summer and in fall and mentioned to Mr. Thurlow that the vast majority of these trees were in very good condition during the later months of last year. While there was the occasional decayed branch, there certainly was not a vast # of dead branches that would warrant such a large-scale clearance of the area. I also mentioned that the removal levels were far in excess of that required to allow adequate clearance for snow plows. Several trees had entire limbs removed 20, 30 feet and higher. This is greatly in excess of what would be required for clearance for snow plows which are probably no higher than 6 to 8 feet. I mentioned the problems that result from such large structural loss to trees and the impact on the root leaf ratio. Since leaves are the vital food supply to a tree and its roots, depleting trees of large amounts of limbs & leaves results in food loss to the root system resulting in both root decay and loss of stability of the tree. In addition, removal of large amounts of the lower structure of the tree disrupts the center of gravity creating top-heavy trees that are at higher risk of toppling over in a storm. Even the utility companies have admitted this.

Mr. Thurlow refused to discuss any of these issues other than retort: What book are you reading from? When I referenced some articles I had read on the issue, he refused to discuss it further and disconnected the call.

I called back to see if there was someone else there who would be willing to discuss the issue and advise why so many trees were removed and subjected to such severe cut-back. I spoke with Peter Church, Director of Forest Stewardship, who apologized for Mr. Thurlow’s behavior and agreed it was a disrespectful way to respond to a resident inquiry. He advised that he would bring the matter to Joe Orfant, Mr. Thurlow’s manager, and would have the issue addressed. He said he would request that Mr. Orfant or someone else would get back to me to follow through on the issue.

Since I was advised during the earlier call that the tree-cutting was continuing that day, I went to the area that afternoon. When I arrived, Northern Tree Service was removing healthy limbs and branches from a pin oak tree on the river side, slightly west of the Grove St. exit and feeding it into the chipper. I spoke with Peter Wormstead who was in charge. While it was difficult to talk due to the noise, he did his best to answer my questions in a helpful way.

When I inquired as to the reason for cutting down so many branches from what was clearly a healthy tree, I mentioned that I did not see any dead wood in the tree, he relayed that the reason for the cutting was not the removal of dead wood but to create clearance for snow plows. I mentioned that the tree was sufficiently far back from the road not to be in the path of snow plows. He responded that he was instructed to clear all branches up to a certain point. I inquired how high. He didn’t provide any exact clearance heights but indicated removal of up to 60% of the tree structure. I mentioned that limb loss at these high levels causes trauma to a tree, weakening the tree and making it more likely to come down in a storm. I also mentioned the ANSI guidelines that stipulate that no more than 25% of a tree be removed in a growing season, that this was an absolute maximum and should be adjusted downward based on the tree’s age, health and location. He seemed to be unaware of this and was of the impression that as long as you leave 40% the tree would be fine. I explained not according to ANSI and described the problem that resulted from Nstar’s massive tree-cutting a few years ago which shifted the problem of branches falling to entire trees toppling over in storms, due to die-off of roots and loss of the balancing structure of the lower part the tree.

Mr. Wormstead was interested in the concerns I relayed and offered to postpone further tree-cutting that afternoon to allow me and other residents to make our concerns known to the DCR. He said he would be willing to postpone further cutting on Monday if the DCR authorized this.

Another point I relayed to him was the Riverfront Restoration Project that will involve narrowing the road and extending the riverside grass towards the road to provide additional space for trees, pedestrians & cyclists. I brought this up in relation to his response when I inquired why trees several feet back from the road were being cut. He said he was instructed to remove all over-hanging branches, even if the branches were several feet back and not close to the road at all. As far back as the trees and branches currently were, I mentioned that with the grass extension and road narrowing, all trees would be even further back from the road eliminating any reason to cause such loss in structure.

Mr. Wormstead said he wasn’t aware of the Riverfront Project and did not know that the grass area was being extended. In light of these facts, he agreed to hold off on further tree-cutting until the DCR reviewed the situation.

I called the DCR at 4:30pm to follow-up. I spoke with Patrice Kish, assistant planner. She mentioned that she had spoken with Joe Orfant and Matt Thurlow and that they were going to go out sometime next week to have a look. She said they had busy schedules and might not get to it until later in the week. I expressed my concern over the damage already caused to the area and additional concern over further damage being caused Monday and during the next few days if review of the matter was delayed until later. I asked if the tree-cutting could be postponed until the situation is investigated. She wasn’t sure but would relay the request. She provided me with your email address to contact you in writing and provided the email addresses of others in your department to include in the correspondence.

Due to the seriousness of this issue, the area has already been badly damaged with valuable tree shade lost, I am writing to you and to others at the DCR to ask if the tree-cutting could be stopped and no further trees cut until the situation is fully evaluated and citizen input obtained & taken into account. Watertown and Cambridge residents have already had thousands of their street trees subjected to severe gouging by Nstar during the past few years. Due to the uglifying effect this has had on our neighborhoods in addition to the loss of valuable shade during the summer months, people value the beauty & shade provided by trees along the river. It is one of the most beautiful and magnificent drives in the metro Boston area. I one week take longer detours along the Boulevard just to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the area. It was a complete shock recently to see how quickly this beauty was erased and turned into an eyesore with mature lush trees turned into lollipop structures and bare toothpick structures with top-heavy canopy residue on top. The following are links to before & after photos.

Beautiful Trees Cut Down & Subjected To Excessive Limb Removal Along Greenough Boulevard, Watertown & Cambridge, MA
After Pictures -

Before Pictures -

It is a tragedy and great loss to Watertown and the surrounding towns to see such beauty
reduced to this. Watertown, while full of character, is generally acknowledged to be a little short on beauty. The riverfront front however is the prized jewel of the town. To have the beauty of the area & one of the gateways into the town damaged in this way is a serious loss to a community striving to create a new image for itself and attract new business. Studies have shown that landscape & environment play a vital role in attracting quality business & residents. Due to major loss of trees, over 1,400 trees were subjected to major structural loss by Nstar in recent years, Watertown needs to preserve its remaining tree canopy. Cambridge & Belmont have also been subjected to similar loss in tree shade and would benefit equally well by preserving the health of natural trees on the waterfront.

The ongoing loss of shade trees in Massachusetts has been recognized as a serious problem for the state. Tree loss as a result of storms, trees weakened from excessive utility-pruning, over-salting of the roads, urban sprawl (nearly 16,000 acres of open space being lost to development each year), over 40,000 trees lost as a result of the Asian long-horned beetle – these are very serious concerns for the future of our urban forest. So much so that I think it was your office, the DCR Division of Forestry, in recognizing the seriousness of the problem, drew up a 5 year plan to tackle this during the recent decade.

The plan states that: “At least 40% of all street trees are in fair to poor condition. This suggests that there will be a significant tree loss over the next decade, unless there is aggressive and consistent tree management and replacement.”

As a result, it called for the following action items:

§ Increase tree canopy, not reduce it.
§ Adopt policies that support no net loss of tree canopy.
§ Work with the legislature to assist communities in protecting local trees & forested areas.
§ Ensure more trees are planted than removed.
§ Acknowledgment that trees create habitat for migratory birds and indigenous wildlife.
§ Listen to & incorporate citizen input. Public involvement in urban and community forestry is growing across the country, and an effective plan cannot be created by a few individuals in an office somewhere. A plan for urban and community forestry must be founded upon broad input from diverse stakeholders across the state – rural and urban residents, detractors and supporters, activists and practitioners. All stakeholders, including decision-makers, professionals and activists, integrate their work.

Citizen input is a very important element and I am writing to request that it be taken into consideration. When residents call to express concern about loss of urban trees, their questions need to be listened to and responded to in a respectful manner and their input accepted and included in the process. I know that some residents have already contacted your office and once I cc. others on this I am sure you will be receiving additional calls & emails.

Further concerns regarding what is being done on Greenough Boulevard is the effect on birds when large amounts of tree structure is removed during nesting season. To my knowledge, a depredation permit is required in certain circumstances to remove any section of a tree where birds are nesting, in particular, migratory birds. I would like to inquire if each of these trees were inspected for migratory birds nests and if the appropriate depredation permit was obtained?

The lush undergrowth that surrounds these trees also provides a protective landscape for other wildlife including river fowl and rabbits. Substantial sections of this protective landscape was removed during the recent clearance of trees.

Additional benefits of trees include reduction in traffic pollution and noise, lowering of air temperature, reduction in asthma and blood pressure & improved overall health.
People are impacted by ugly or attractive environments. Trees in particular have a calming and healing quality as well as a calming effect on traffic resulting in safer driving.

One thing that is greatly puzzling is the fact that the goal of the upcoming Riverfront Project is to restore the area. I’m puzzled why the DCR would allow so many trees to be removed and so many limbs sawed off remaining trees when another project is planning to revitalize & restore the area. It seems like a contradiction and one that will undermine the reason for and value of the restoration. Several of those trees that were removed or cut back camouflaged the graveyard behind. It provided a beautiful contoured canopy to the area. Now you have depleted toothpick structures with gravestones visible behind. One would be hard-pressed to see the point of creating green space for people to linger & enjoy the view while destroying the beauty of that view.

In regards to non-domestic species of trees and vines, I understand the need to manage these species, however, surely there are more moderate ways of doing this than tearing down several trees and leaving large empty gaps? Could not trees be replaced on a gradual, moderate level and vines cut or otherwise removed? Not all of those trees had bittersweet and if some did, they certainly seemed to be surviving pretty well. The impact from the bittersweet, if any, was negligible compared to the lethal impact of the chainsaws.

Due to the unique beauty of Greenough Boulevard it is an area worthy of Scenic Road Designation and the protections afforded to such roads. I will be forwarding a copy of this to members of the Watertown Town Council to see if something can be done in this regard. While it will take time to process and approve, I would request that in the meantime, the boulevard be afforded the protections of a recognized Scenic Route and that no further tree-cutting be done until the situation is evaluated and citizen input taken into consideration.

Ms. Sanches, if you would place a halt on any further tree-cutting scheduled for Monday morning, that would be greatly appreciated. Since one of the primary goals of the DCR is conservation, I’m hoping this conservation can be applied towards the remaining trees.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for giving this matter your urgent attention. I look forward to hearing back.


Maureen O’Sullivan.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer