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Boston’s Urban Wilds Program joins the Forests in Cities Network

The Boston Parks and Recreation Department has announced that the department’s Urban Wilds Program, in collaboration with Mass Audubon and Boston University, has been selected to represent Boston in the Forests in Cities Network, a national network dedicated to promoting and advancing healthy forested natural areas in cities across America through science, management, partnerships, and communications.

Boston’s Urban Wilds Program manages 31 natural areas across the city. These open spaces offer a peaceful break from Boston’s urban environment, serve as outdoor classrooms for children and adults to learn about nature, and provide habitat for native plants and animals. Although Urban Wilds are passive spaces, they require active management to reach their potential. Many of these management challenges encompass a wide range of issues, such as ecology, safety, engineering, public accessibility, education, and environmental justice.

“Our Urban Wilds team will greatly benefit from this new partnership as they continue their work in Boston’s forested natural areas, including the urban wilds at Allandale Woods and Sherrin Woods. Additionally, participating in the Network will further enable Urban Wilds staff to help sustainably manage the many parks with forested natural areas, such as Franklin Park,” noted Boston Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods. “The work of the Urban Wilds team is complex and requires keeping up with constantly evolving science and best practices. By collaborating with other cities, we will be able to be at the cutting edge of managing these valuable resources.” 

The Forests in Cities Network was started in 2019 by the Natural Areas Conservancy. The program’s goals are to nurture and grow a national network of experts, advance urban forest science and practice, and advocate for increased resources and support. The Network is made up of teams representing varied cities around the U.S.

A typical team is made up of a government partner, an academic partner, and a non-profit partner. Teams around the country perform similar work and can share valuable information, experiences, and lessons learned. They also collaborate on large-scale research projects demonstrating the values of urban forested natural areas, furthering each city’s ability to advocate for forest protection and sustainable management practices. Not only will Boston show its long history of land protection, but it will also benefit from learning about the land management practices of other cities.

The City’s Urban Wilds Program has several core mission functions: it protects urban wilds and other natural areas from threats such as development, encroachment, and other uses that may harm their natural character; it manages and maintains urban wilds and other natural areas to preserve their ecological value; it promotes conservation, passive recreation, environmental education, and other similar uses; it develops administrative, fiscal, and programmatic resources to ensure ongoing, long-term maintenance and management; and it advocates for the long-term protection and stewardship of other urban wilds and natural areas that are not currently owned by the City.

“Our staff identified this as an excellent opportunity for Urban Wilds and our community partners back in the winter of 2021-2022,” noted Paul Sutton, Boston’s Urban Wilds director. “We quickly began to make a plan for creating a team and applying for membership when we felt ready. Boston’s membership in this working group will allow collaboration with forested natural area practitioners nationwide to elevate our work and make it more accessible and beneficial to residents.”

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Erica Holm, Urban Ecologist for Mass Audubon, and Boston Urban Wilds Program foreman Nick Long stand in front of a micro-forest planted by Mass Audubon and PowerCorps Boston at Boston Nature Center in Mattapan, one of the City of Boston’s partners in the Forests in Cities Network.


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