Skip to content




HARVARD — The Elm Commission may change its name, maybe to something like the Elm and Shade Tree Commission. But the most pressing concern for the group now is getting the word out about its recently adopted new tree-planting policy, which promises to put everyone on the same page when it comes to planting trees on public land in town.

The new name would reflect work the group has actually been doing and aims to continue, Chairman Bill Calderwood told selectmen last week, such as planting and tending new trees annually and providing policy oversight and guidance for all tree plantings or removals on public property in town, except for the cemetery.

The proposed new policy the commissioners and Tree Warden Christian Bilodeau brought to the board for approval reflects an arboreal master plan that is basically “about planting trees and the way we manage that,” Calderwood said.

Consisting of four commissioners plus the tree warden “as a fifth member,” Calderwood said the group has jurisdiction over removal and planting of trees and holds public hearings. “Over the years, the group has “acted as a shade tree commission,” he said.

“But we’ve lost control of plantings,” Calderwood continued, citing the need for a “stakeholder review” of tree-planting policies on town land.

“Historically, we go out with Park and Rec, walk the area and reach out to other stakeholders, such as the Bromfield Trust, ” before a new tree is added to the streetscape, he said.

But apparently that doesn’t always happen these days. The new policy the EC adopted – with input from town counsel – addresses that, Calderwood said, establishing ground rules for planting trees on public land and allowing commissioners to “work with stakeholders” such as the schools and other groups on proposed tree-planting projects.

“We want to avoid having to move trees” that have been planted in the wrong places or that were not the right size or species, Calderwood continued. For example, new trees should be at least two inches around, since smaller ones don’t survive. “But it’s not a cook book,” he said, adding that EC has a “plant specialist” on board.

Other than the cemetery, which is a hands-off area, the EC’s new policy rules out memorial markers” on trees, Calderwood said. “We’re interested in not creating wood, stone or metal markers” that would have to come down when a tree does, he said. “A tree’s a tree and man made markers belong elsewhere,” he said.

New policy in hand, commissioners have been making the rounds — Park and Recreation Commission, School Committee — and plan to add other groups to the list, such as the Conservation Commission. “With the selectmen’s guidance,” the aim is to present the document to the other groups at public meetings of those boards and committees.

Part of this outreach is that “we want control” versus “ad hoc” tree plantings, added Commissioner Mario Cardenas.

For the last decade or so, the commission has planted from five to 10 trees per year, but other “memorial trees” have been planted without EC input. “A few were well done, others just showed up,” they said. But the new policy seeks to “formalize the process.”

Planting policies start with the tree warden, Bilodeau said, in consultation with other departments.

Park and Recreation Commissioner John Lee praised the “hard work” the Elm Commission has done, planting trees and taking care of them. “Bill has been a great help,” he said, noting that Park & Rec used to plant trees but no longer does and that the other group, including Bilodeau, “fills the void.”

Lee recommended acknowledging the Elm Commission’s expanded mission with a new name, perhaps also preserving the original, which he said is “treasured” by some people in town.

“The policy is fine, but you also need a process,” Selectman Leo Blair said, starting with an application.

Selectmen voted unanimously to approve the EC policy, contingent on the group coming up with a procedure, which the commissioners agreed to do.

No vote was taken on the nascent name change.