Tree Warden

You can send a message to the Tree Warden by clicking on the link under “Key Contacts” or by phone 978-551-8135 or Email:

In Massachusetts, we are lucky to have a long history of protecting public shade trees, dating back over 100 years.  The principle law governing public shade trees and empowering Tree Wardens is M.G.L. 87 (   In addition to M.G.L. 87, the scenic road bylaw M.G.L. 40 section 15C and Harvard’s own scenic road bylaw Chapter 90 provides additional guidance on managing public shade trees along designated scenic roads.

The word “Warden” was a common title for people in the late 1800s in positions guarding natural resources (who cannot speak for themselves) against destructive forces, such as those brought on by people, insects, diseases, and so on. 

Harvard’s Tree Warden:
The Tree Warden position in Harvard is an annual appointment.  In addition to over seeing the public shade trees governed by the aforementioned laws, the Tree Warden works with stakeholders involving trees on town-owned land (e.g., the common) and also is a member of Harvard Elm Tree Commission.

Property Owner’s Responsibility:
It is important for property owners contemplating planting, removal or trimming of tree(s) near the roadside to contact the Tree Warden prior to any work being done.  Any tree in the road’s right-of-way is considered a public tree, even if only 1” of the tree’s stump is in the right-of-way.   This also includes trimming and cutting of trees whose branches are over the road’s right-of-way when the tree’s stump is fully on private property.

The road right-of-ways in Harvard vary from no designated right-of-way to up to 50 feet wide.  Common town lore tends to be “the town owns 5’ off the pavement” or “the stonewall marks the right-of-way” – this is rarely the case.   Furthermore, often times, roads in town are not laid perfectly centered in the right-of-way, making it less clear if a tree is public or private.

Thus, before doing any sort of tree work (planting, removal, trimming) of trees near the roadside, review your plans with the Tree Warden to ensure the laws are being followed.  Failure to follow laws may result in fines. 

Be careful of tree companies who appear to understand the law and advise on public tree versus private tree – often times, they do not get it right.  The best tree companies will want to talk with Tree Warden or encourage the property owner to seek Tree Warden permission before work begins.

In addition to the above, property owners should never affix (temporary or permanent) any object to a public shade tree without permission from the Tree Warden (e.g., reflectors, mailboxes, mirrors, and so on).

Lastly, as you enjoy Harvard’s public ways, either by walk, cycling, running, etc. and you notice a dangerous tree, please bring it to the Tree Warden’s attention.

Removing Public Trees:

Broadly, removals fall into two categories: dangerous trees and everything else.  

  • Dangerous trees (declining, dead), such as those affected by climate change or other maladies (e.g.,  Emerald Ash Borer), after review by the Tree Warden, may be removed without a public hearing.   The Tree Warden has an active program of continuously reviewing trees along the roadsides and designating trees endangering the public for removal, using public funds.
  • For all non-dangerous trees (generally, live trees), a public hearing is required.  After review of a property owner’s plans, the Tree Warden shall determine if a public hearing is required and the trees subject to the hearing.   Property owner should expect this to take anywhere from 4-10 weeks, every situation is different, thus the wide range.  Property owners should expect to bare the cost associated with the public hearing (see link below) and for any tree removal, trimming, etc. work unless otherwise determined by the Tree Warden.

Please click here to review the public hearing procedure and to access the hearing request form you will need to fill out to initiate the process.