Areas of Practice

Across the spectrum of environmental law, we offer advice and representation with practical, results-oriented lawyering in the following practice areas...
Category: Areas of Practice

We enjoy working for clients on the many ways in which farming, forestry and trees are both regulated and promoted in Massachusetts.

Agriculture is encouraged by state law authorizing municipalities to establish incentive areas and relaxing nuisance laws somewhat for farming. G.L. c.111, §§125A and 143. There is some protection for farmland from eminent domain.  G.L. c.79, §5B. The state Zoning Act exempts agricultural activities on lots of a certain size, and exempts farm stands if they meet certain requisites. G.L. c.40A, §3.

State tax law can reduce real estate taxes for properties meeting certain minimum sizes and gross receipts.  G.L. c.61A, backed up by tax rollbacks and conveyance taxes for properties taken out of the program. Chapter 61A allows reduced property tax assessments. Participation for landowners is voluntary on annual form filing.  

Tax relief varies by specific use, under guidelines of the state Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR). This land is exempt from special or betterment assessments while being farmed. The law gives municipalities a right of first refusal, which they can assign to others to utilize, to purchase farmland that otherwise would be sold or converted to a non-agricultural use.

Under G.L c.40L the city, town or Commonwealth enjoys a right of first refusal to purchase farmland that otherwise would be sold or converted for nonagricultural use in agriculture incentive areas. There is a qualified exemption in the state Wetlands Protection Act for normal maintenance or improvement of lands already in agricultural use.  G.L. c.40.  The state, municipalities or qualified charities may acquire Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APRs), receiving deed restrictions to prevent farmland from being developed. State-owned agricultural lands are protected by a policy to protect the agricultural land base from “irreversible conversion.”

The state Forest Cutting Practices Act, G.L. c.132, §§40-46, promotes responsible harvesting of trees by specifying cutting methods and requiring work plans prior to commercial harvests of high volume. Limited exemptions apply for public utility and highway maintenance and some other projects requiring city or town permits.

Real estate tax relief is available for land in forestry use.  G.L. c.61. This law imposes a conveyance tax within 10 years of acquisition.  Rollback taxes apply if land is the land is converted to other use, except a transfer to c.61A or 61B usage. There is a municipal right of first refusal.

The Public Shade Tree Act, G.L. c.87 protects publicly owned trees along city, town and county ways, namely within public ways or on the boundaries thereof. No such tree may be cut, trimmed or removed, even by the owner, without permission of the municipal tree warden after posting and public hearing. If there is written objection, the work needs approval of the selectmen or mayor. There is an exemption for the selectmen, mayor, road commissioners, or highway surveyor to order trees to be trimmed or removed if they deem them to “obstruct, endanger, hinder or incommode” persons traveling on a way. Public officers in charge of widening roads may order removal of trees for that purpose.

Every owner or occupant of land who permits cutting of brush or timber shall dispose of the “slash” (tops, branches, sawdust, and other debris) in a way that minimizes fire danger.  G.L. c.48, §§16-18.

The state Scenic Roads Act regulates cutting or removal of trees, or tearing down or destruction of stone walls, along scenic roads so designated by town meeting or city council, by mandating a planning board public hearing. A few towns have their o

Towns are required to have a tree warden under G.L. c.41, §§1 and 106, unless the duties of the warden have been delegated by the town to a board of public works per G.L. c.41, §69C-F, or to a municipal office of lands and natural resources, per G.L. c.41, §69G. The tree warden, or designated agency, has broad authority to plant, trim, and remove public shade trees and shrubs on town streets. G.L. c.87, §2.

All trees that border public ways are public shade trees. If there is any doubt about a boundary, the presumption is that the tree belongs to the town, unless someone can show otherwise. G.L. c.87, §1.
Under state law, towns may appropriate money for the tree warden to plant shade trees along public ways, or up to 20 feet away to improve, protect, shade or ornament the street. G.L. c.87, §7. This 20-foot authority and the ownership presumption are the source of the common belief that trees on lawns are within town control. Public shade trees many not be cut down or removed by anyone except the tree warden or his or her deputy, unless the warden gives written approval. A public hearing is required before removal.

Several statutes authorize and manage the many and varied state and town forests. Trees in public parks are usually under the control of the park commissioners, although the tree warden may be asked to assist in the care of some or all park trees.

For matters ranging across specimen or historic trees, important landscapes and viewscapes, town forests and commercial harvesting, and the many laws affecting farms, farming and farmers, we enjoy the trust of our individual, business and government clients.

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