Chapter 87 Proposed Revisions

For the past several years, the Massachusetts Tree Wardens’ and Foresters’ Association has been advocating for changes to modernize Chapter 87: Shade Trees. Several previous two-year legislative session have ended without the passage of these revisions. For the first time, the bill is now filed on both the House and Senate sides as Bill H.1088 and Bill S.1122 in the current legislative sessions (190th) session.  Scroll down to see the specific goals of these revisions.


• The earliest versions of M.G.L. Chapter 87 were passed in the late 1890’s, in order to provide tree wardens the ability to protect their community trees.

• By 1913, the Shade Tree Law (now known as Chapter 87) gave tree wardens effective tools to protect public trees. The law as it was then matched the knowledge and methods of doing business at the time.

– In 1913, tree wardens became qualified in their profession primarily through experience, without the benefit of training workshops, industry publications, and peer gatherings.

– Much of the initial language in Chapter 87 was created in this era.

• Since 1913, Chapter 87 has had only minor revisions.

• Since 1913, major changes in the industry include

– Dramatic shifts in the makeup of a community’s forest, tree canopy, and the interface between people and trees.

– Significant advancements in both the tree-science knowledge base and in current tree care practices.

• Today the industry of community tree care (urban forestry) is based on

– sound arboricultural practices

– scientific research

– modern management approaches

• Widespread urban forest impacts in the last several years have highlighted the importance of having trained and qualified personnel.

– Insects and weather events affecting trees have included Asian longhorned beetle in Worcester, emerald ash borer, ice storms, Springfield area tornadoes, and Tropical Storm Irene.

– Today’s emphasis is on good decisions based on both science and a community’s liability issues. Such decisions require assessments that only a qualified and trained person can make.


1.  Make minor changes that will align with current times and practices.

Example – Section 12: add language to indicate damage done by a vehicle as well as a horse.

Example – Section 5: increase the size of a tree removal that requires a hearing, from 1.5 inches diameter to 4 inches.

2.  Bring standards up to current times and needs by addressing several critical shortcomings.

Example – Section 5: add a requirement that industry standards must be followed when evaluating trees for potential risk.

Example – Various sections: specify allowable fines that are more reflective of the value of the damage done.

3.  Allow for the creation of standardized regulations to provide a mechanism that can change with time and needs.

– As noted above, industry standards and practices have evolved since 1913. Scientific research advances, and methodologies change continuously.

– The regulations governing public trees need to be adjustable with these changes. Section 15 adds the creation of regulations with oversight from the Commonwealth.

4.  Institute standard requirements to ensure that tree wardens are qualified to perform their jobs.