By Christian Walli, Tree Canada Community Adviser, BC With contributions from representatives from Burnaby, Golden, Saanich, Canim First Nation, Westbank First Nation, Surrey School District, Campbell River and Abbotsford, British Columbia
One aim of urban planners around the world is to synchronize urban tree planting activities with natural rhythms, adjust planting to changing climate conditions, and balance citizens’ social demands on green spaces. There are thousands of urban forestry and community garden projects undertaken and maintained each year in Canada. Most involve planting trees and shrubs, restoring hill sides and replacing paved areas with green space. An important recent evolution in Canadian urban forestry is that food forests are beginning to get some recognition in Canada.
Increasing urban forest cover has a myriad of positive effects on the economy, society and the environment. Economists at the Toronto Dominion Bank have valued that city’s forest cover to be about $7 billion, or about $700 per tree, of which about $8 per tree is environmental benefits and costs savings to residents .
Cities in British Columbia are also actively greening their parks, shores and public spaces, involving citizens of all ages in the process. Many of these projects do much to boost a feeling of well-being, satisfaction, citizen engagement and sense of community among citizens, who all face challenges of some sort. Below are a few examples of urban greening projects in BC.
The City of Burnaby actively protects and renews its tree cover. About 25% of land base in Burnaby has been protected as park and protected areas, much of which is forested. Trees are protected, planted and managed on public and private lands through a number of policies and initiatives. According to a City of Burnaby forestry technician, “Our park teams work together with community members; these collaborative projects strengthen ties within the organization, as well as build ownership and foster stewardship in the local community. Areas within the Parks Division which haven’t worked together previously are working together on developing planting projects, submitting proposals, creating community events, implementing projects and conducting follow-up maintenance. On the community side, Parks has worked with school groups, corporate groups, youth groups, and environmental groups, to plant or prepare areas for planting. None of these relationships would have been possible without the projects that grew from external funding and support. Now and moving forward, Burnaby has a healthier forest canopy, and stronger community to steward these forests. We recognize health, sustainability and climate change are important, with urban forests. I still feel public and organizational understanding of the issues is low. People don’t really grasp the impact of climate change, and some levels of government are still denying it exists. I guess the means we need more education and public awareness raising, and more community programs to get community members involved!”
In Saanich, plant vandalism upset community members, and in response, volunteers replaced damaged trees with larger trees, helped by district Parks staff and external funding. The community took ownership of the trees and the project provides a great deal of civic pride.
Saanich is implementing an Urban Forest Strategy that has included Land Cover Mapping, Landscape Design Guidelines, Urban Forest Operations Manual and revision to our Tree Protection Bylaw and a Comprehensive Tree Planting Program to help Saanich maintain its tree cover while balancing development pressures and other impacts to the urban forest.
But the implementation of these plans is not without challenges. Trees in Saanich are being impacted by climate change. Insects such as loppers and span worm are now affecting the Garry Oak trees native to the area much more than they used to. In parks, over the past decade more Grand Fir and Western Red Cedar are dying from drought during the summer and the need to water newly planted trees limits the number of trees the city can afford to plant and maintain. The composition of the forest is changing and the city is adapting their planting strategies to respond to climate change. According to one city employee, “We are lucky to have the University of Victoria in our backyard as much research has been done in the area with regards to climate change and modeling.”
Another factor impacting the forest cover in Saanich is development on both private and public lands, which has decreased the canopy by approximately 0.5 % annually over the past 20 years. Because Saanich has an urban containment boundary and is facing infill development with increased density, finding opportunities to save trees is becoming increasingly difficult and is compounded by a decrease in available planting locations.
In Golden, a roadway slope that was almost completely barren of trees was restored by planting indigenous seedlings. The project – the Selkirk Hill Reclamation Project – aims to also safeguard a pedestrian sidewalk directly adjacent to the roadway from snow avalanches in the future. A town official involved in the project identified a challenge present here that all municipalities face in their attempts to
increase urban forest cover:
“There are a lot of competing interests and politics vying for limited capital and labour resources. Everyone instinctively and ethically wants to do the right thing for the environment, but I believe at the end of the day it is a balancing act often influenced by what is happening in the moment with actions/planning not necessarily giving due regard to what could potentially happen in the future as a result of today’s actions or what might be mitigated by today’s actions.”
In Surrey, the school district partnered with BC Plant Health Care – a professional team of career arborists – to provide 475 students from Bear Creek Elementary School, along with teachers, parents and caregivers day-long workshops. Arborists also organized a commemorative tree planting ceremony with students from each class and took them on an educational tour of the school grounds. Students learned about the benefits of trees, ground preparation, planting, watering and monitoring the growth of the trees, as well as how to identify if a tree is struggling or becoming diseased. Students gained skills and knowledge regarding environmental protection that they will carry throughout their lifetimes, and developed behavioral changes that will positively affect their environmental footprint.
The Campbell River is a provincially designated Heritage River, and the City of Campbell River prides itself on being the “salmon capital of the world”. Over the past 100 years, industrial activities along the river, including forestry and hydroelectric development have negatively impacted the ecological health of the estuary. The City of Campbell River relies heavily on tourism and increased salmon stocks are very important to the local culture and economy. The city collaborated with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Tula Foundation to purchase and restore Baikie Island, an island in the estuary. A multi-year restoration project has been a success, and today the Baikie Island Reserve is a world-renowned example of a successful ecosystem restoration. The City of Campbell River continues its efforts to restore the Campbell River Estuary, but like many cities, funding for these kinds of projects is often cited as a challenge. In addition, some feel that in cities that are surrounded by large swaths of forested and green areas, citizen support for municipal investments in urban greening may tend to be lower.
Located near Kelowna, the Westbank First Nation has evolved from being a small rural reserve to a reserve within a vibrant growing city. Tree cover on the Nation’s lands have been impacted by the Mountain Pine Beetle, requiring that lost trees be replanted, some of which the community depends on external grants to help execute. WFN has teamed up with TD Bank and BC Hydro who supplied funding and support while school children, community members and corporate groups helped implement these re-greening projects. In addition to aesthetic benefits from planting trees, the community has benefited from by collaborating with different cultures and gaining a better understanding of the cultures that surround their community. Planting projects have rekindled an interest in nature among community members, the rediscovery of lost skills of tree planting, and comfort in knowing that the trees which community members plant will provide benefits for generations to come. The project has also been something concrete to counter apathy among community members, the idea that a simple gesture or act on their part won’t make a difference to large and complex environmental problems.
Canim Lake Band lands that are either Indian Reserve Land or part of their forestry lands have also been invested by the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic and the forestry recession. There was at one point recently, very little money in the Bands’ forestry department to afford tree planting in areas that needed restoration. Through a partnership with a well-known silvicultural contractor and facilitator, a now three year old tree planting program was created that has built a silviculture work force in the community. These projects benefited the Canim Lake Band youth that are becoming tree planters. The Band supports the project by allocating resources in several ways: first, their forestry department finds the land, collects the surveys and then sources and allocates tree species to be planted in these units based on Ministry of Forest standards. Second, the Band’s Human Resource liaison works with silviculture contractor to hire a local Canim Band crew that will work with contractor’s seasoned planters and staff. Lastly, the Community provides the base of work force for the planting.
In Abbotsford, members of Valley Permaculture Guild (VPG) are concerned about access to fresh, nutrient dense food throughout the Fraser Valley. They have partnered with Abbotsford Dignitarian Society’s Abby Digs Village to support the vision of the society and raise awareness around homelessness and food security in BC.
As part of VPG’s commitment to finding solutions to food security, The VPG secure Edible Trees Canada’s $4000 grant to establish a food forest at Abby Digs to increase equitable access to healthy food and strengthen the community by empowering individuals to share in harvesting and care of food resources. A food forest is one of the oldest forms of land use and our most resilient agriculture system. It is a low-maintenance, sustainable, plant-based food production and forestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating marketable food crops such as fruit trees, nut trees , shrub fruits, herbs, fruit vines, and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans, all intermixed to grow to assist each other in nutrient uptake through companion and guild planting. Guild planting increases the permeability of soils, reduces runoff and improves overall soil health. VPG uses, as a forest would, natural rainfall that occurs with low quantities of dissolved minerals and chemicals. To prevent weeds, conserve water, provide nutrient access for plants, mulch is created by pruning existing shrubs and trees frequently, dropping the cuttings directly on the ground below.
As one member of the VPG describes, “Establishment of this food forest creates a self-sustaining food system for the community, as well as employment and training opportunities for marginalized individuals through production and selling of locally grown produce This project builds community around food and food awareness, provides meaningful dialogue about food issues, and promotes awareness and education about food security issues significant to the Fraser Valley, while celebrating local, seasonal food and our diverse food culture”.
 Alexander, Craig and McDonald, Connor. June 2014, TD Economics Special Report: Urban Forests: The Value of Trees in the City of Toronto.