With National Tree Day coming up on September 26th, I wanted to explain just how important the presence of trees has become to our evolving industrial landscape which has seen rapid growth in the last 20 years. Putting the significance of trees into perspective, would you rather wake up to a bright and fresh canopy of trees or a canopy of signs, billboards and advertisements that clutter the streets? This simple question should be a no-brainer, the trees of course! However, the latter is our reality, and describes the effects of the Anthropocene.
The following cities are doing a lot of work around making their communities a greener one and we are happy to have them take part in our National Tree Day events this September 26.
Greater Toronto Area (GTA)
The GTA is sometimes considered a concrete jungle, so it’s easy to appreciate the effect that an urban forest would have in such a populated area. In written by the Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) – an environmental organization dedicated to conservation – recently expressed concerns that the effort to protect the GTA’s urban forests is increasingly under threat from stubborn policy, built infrastructure development, and climate change. The TRCA explains that trees aren’t just “nice to have”, they are a “critical infrastructure asset” to the municipalities surrounding the city. The TRCA aims to bring trees to the foreground and involve greenery in all municipal decision-making in terms of infrastructure development and service value to the society. According to the TRCA, Toronto’s urban forests provide $125 million in services to the GTA each year. Among others, these services include: removal of harmful air pollutants and air purification. A recent study on the benefits of urban forests in Canadian communities concluded that mature trees can help improve air quality through pollution removal by acting as a physical filter trapping dust particles and air pollutants in their bark and leaves. In a city that is responsible for approximately 29% of Ontario’s GHG emissions, trees are essential for carbon reduction and air purification.
Over a decade ago, the city of Montreal adopted a tree policy aimed at protecting the city’s trees and preserving its arboreal heritage. The city published a report on the benefits of urban trees stating that they are community assets deserving of protection. The city’s urban policy is structured around six main objectives which feature actions such as: planning, operations, management, by-laws and communications throughout the city regarding tree planting, development and preservation. Like many of the cities in southern Ontario, Montreal’s ash trees face extinction due to a tiny iridescent insect, the Emerald Ash Borer. In January, 4000 ash trees on Mont Royal sickened by the borer were on the chopping block in an attempt to save the remaining trees from infestation. A bylaw requires residents to treat or remove any sick ash trees on their property. Steps are being taken to prevent the borer from leaving Montreal. Moving forward the city’s plans focus on replantation and development of trees for future generations.
The City of Vancouver created a calculated map for urban canopy coverage around the city by neighborhood. Their findings showed that most of the city’s trees were on private property and only 18% of their total city is covered by tree canopy. The report shows a decline in the canopy over the past two decades. With this decline, so too do the benefits it provides, such as mitigating climate change, cleaning pollutants from the air, and providing wildlife with a secure habitat. One of the main mitigatory factors of the trees, and a necessary service to the city, is managing rainwater. Their leaf canopies help reduce soil erosion caused by continuous rainfall. The roots absorb water and help create conditions that promote filtration and reduce flooding. British Columbia’s precipitation percentage per year is the largest in Canada with a staggering five feet of rain falling annually. With a decline in rainwater mitigation, Vancouver would fall victim to flash floods, soil erosion and run off. The mountainous and slope-like landscape adds to these problems. Much like the other cities, Vancouver has taken steps to diminish tree loss by developing an Urban Tree Strategy which includes a Protection of Trees Bylaw.
Did you know that Winnipeg is home to the world’s largest American Elm urban forest? In 1900, Winnipeg’s civic leaders decided that their lifeless residential streets needed a green upgrade. The species chosen was American Elm for its beauty and resilience. Over a century later this decision has defined the City of Winnipeg and formed the backbone of the nation’s largest American Elm collection. In 2001, Dutch elm disease took down many of the American Elms in Canada. It was estimated that without a dedicated effort to conserve the elm trees, Winnipeg would have lost its last tree in 2007. Today the city is still home to the largest elm collection in the world. A residential study was conducted by the University of Manitoba on the lasting impact that Winnipeg’s urban forests has on the population. The study had a larger general purpose meant to showcase a framework for urban forest value all over Canada. Researchers used qualitative methods, such as surveys and questionnaires, to gather data from residents in and around Winnipeg. The results indicated that ‘Winnipeggers’ place a large amount of dependence and value on urban forests for biodiversity, naturalness, aesthetics of the city and social and recreational use. A case study published in Bioscience explains how exposure to green spaces brightens our mood, reduces anxiety and depression, increases energy levels and boosts mental alertness. The residents of Winnipeg would surely feel these positive effects too!
Back in 2005, the City of St. John’s Environmental Design and Management team was selected to curate a project that would guide the maintenance and improvement of its urban forest landscape for the next 25 years. The plan featured three main components: consult the public and stakeholders, complete a detailed inventory of St. John’s trees at present time, and prepare a five-year operational plan and ten-year management plan for the growth and development of trees. Their plan included things like planting native trees in parks and urban spaces, increasing species diversity, planting one tree for every tree removed and using a Tree Inventory database to track the development and maturity of trees. Now more than ten years later, with the support of Tree Canada, the city continues to green its spaces by planting 400-500 mixed species trees around the city and surrounding suburbs.
So, come out on National Tree Day, this September 26th, as we bring all these communities together to participate in tree planting events and initiatives in celebration of our nation’s oldest and greenest companions: our trees! Each tree planting event aims to beautify the city urban landscape with the goal of providing wildlife shelters, offsetting carbon emissions and increasing tree canopy coverage and improving air quality.