Massachusetts Tree Statute Guards Greenery – and Fall Finery, Too

Photo of Jeffrey A. Soilson

If during the last two to three weeks you have spent any time on a soccer field, in the woods, or on the Massachusetts Turnpike, you have probably noticed that the Commonwealth’s deciduous trees have been enjoying their annual star turn. The spectacular colors have reminded this blogger of the protection found in the Massachusetts General Laws for trees on privately owned land.

By Massachusetts statute, a landowner is entitled to triple damages from a person who “without license willfully cuts down, carries away, girdles, or otherwise destroys trees, timber, wood or underwood on the land of another.” Only single damages are available where, however, the tree cutter “had good reason to believe that the land on which the trespass was committed was his own or that he was otherwise lawfully authorized to do the acts complained of.”

And how does one measure the damages associated with lost trees? Massachusetts case law identifies three methods of measuring such injury: (i) the value of the timber cut; (ii) the diminution in value of the property due to the cutting; and (iii) the cost of restoration of the trees. Ritter v. Bergmann, 72 Mass. App. Ct. 296 (2008).

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