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Boston tree-planting effort leaves a lot to be desired, analysis shows

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City’s public canopy has receded during past 10 years

Dutch elm disease felled these trees on Back Bay’s Marlborough Street.
Boston Globe/Contributor/Getty Images

Boston planted 9,809 trees on city-owned land between fiscal years 2008 and 2017, and removed 5,815, for a net gain of fewer than 4,000.

The result means that the city lags most other U.S. municipalities in expanding its public canopy and that Boston has fallen well short of its own goal of expanding that canopy 20 percent by 2020. Then-Mayor Thomas Menino set that now-abandoned goal in 2007.

In fact, only around one-quarter of Boston-owned land has trees; just over a decade ago the figure likely stood around 30 percent.

Why the failure? It’s complicated, though it has something to do with Boston’s density and development pace. Simply put, older trees are getting the ax and there isn’t always adequate room for newer ones. Various tree pests aren’t helping.

Then there are accusations that the city’s heart was never really in the effort.

Private landowners might yet come to the rescue through their own tree-planting initiatives and through the city gifting saplings (though that has yet to happen). Private property, after all, makes up half of Boston’s land.