Springfield forester Alexander Sherman keeps the city green, one tree at a time


SPRINGFIELD – Springtime is a busy time for Alexander Sherman, the town’s ranger.

Small Kentucky coffee trees have grown from potting soil in the greenhouse behind his office in the back of Forest Park. Outside the greenhouse were small trees in rows: Japanese lilac, London plane and Japanese zelkova trees. They are all destined for locations across the city.

“Trees in the nursery are all planted primarily as street trees, but also for park plantings and other maybe (for) schools and the like,” Sherman said.

Late last year, the city announced that it was using a portion of its federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to plant trees across the city.

Current projects the Forest Department is involved in include renovations to Page Boulevard — a project totaling $395,000 — assisting with the North End neighborhood beautification — costing $839,303.14, according to Sherman — and Improvements along Main Street costing $241,704.

“There are several others that are still in the planning stages that we’ll be seeing online and over the next few seasons,” Sherman said. “The construction and our part will all be completed within this calendar year.”

In a statement, Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said he was grateful for the Forest Department’s efforts to “provide maintenance and horticulture services to over 2,400 acres of park and land forest services.”

“Thanks to their efforts, Springfield is a beautiful city with an award-winning and nationally recognized park system,” he said. “Our forestry department does an excellent job taking care of all of our public shade trees and maintaining our beautiful parks for our city.”

The tree nursery of the forestry office grows around 3,000 to 5,000 trees per year, depending on the distance.

Sherman also said the Forestry Division works closely with the US Forest Service to study oak regeneration in urban forests, using Forest Park as a living laboratory for their studies.

“We will plant some oak seedlings out in the woods within their study plots and watch them as they grow old,” Sherman said.

He added that the city is trying to collaborate with researchers from the US Forest Service and researchers and students from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“Trees provide a range of environmental, economic and social benefits,” Sherman said. “All in all, study after study has been conducted on the various benefits of urban trees, ranging from the environmental benefits of removing particulate matter from the air, creating cleaner air, reducing stormwater runoff, shading homes and streets, to… Heat island reduction rich effect, which is a big problem in cities.”

But planting trees citywide isn’t all Sherman does. Later in the day he visited the home of a resident near Forest Park who was wondering if two Eastern White Pines should be felled. Using a tablet, Sherman pulled up a map of the city covered in green dots. Each point represented a tree.

The data showed the descriptions of the tree, who last examined it, and what work was done on it.

According to Sherman, the city’s Forest Service takes between 1,000 and 1,500 calls a year for the service, which varies by time of year.

“We’re not just here to cut down rotten trees,” Sherman said. “We want to maintain and prune our existing tree canopies, make sure they are safe and blend well with the environment, and focus on planting trees for the next generation.”

After examining the trees, he tapped updates on the tree’s condition into the tablet and headed back to his truck. He sets out to oversee the removal of a tree near the American International College.

It’s just another day in the life of a 21st century urban ranger.