St. Catharines to boost spending on urban forest

Marlene Bergsma

St. Catharines’ efforts to double the size of its urban forest are getting chopped down by two invasive pests.
The emerald ash borer has already felled about 350 city-owned ash trees and the Asian long-horned beetle is poised to invade within the next few years, said a report to city council. About 45% of the city’s trees are species vulnerable to the beetle, said the report.
That’s why the budget committee is planning to boost the city’s spending on tree planting and tree maintenance, partly by dipping into the civic project fund.
The committed voted to move $600,000 from the civic project fund to the tree budget, boosting the annual spending on tree maintenance to $2.5 million a year.
“This is not regular maintenance, this is a crisis,” said St. Patrick’s Coun. Mark Elliott, who is a member of the city’s urban forest advisory committee.
But city staff say even that increase won’t be enough to allow city crews to stay ahead of the growing backlog of tree and stump removal. Staff are recommending the annual maintenance budget be increased again to $3.5 million in both 2015 and 2016.
And despite planting hundreds of new trees in the past few years in an effort to increase the urban forest, the emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle are setting the city even further back.
Currently, the city’s tree canopy is at 17% per cent but it should be 30%, said Elliott.
“The forest we have is old and is coming to the end of its life,” he said, “and then we keep getting hit with other stuff” such as wind storms, ice storms and invasive pests, which use up budget money.
But in order to plant more trees – especially ones that will be resistant to pests – “we have to increase the budget for removals,” he said.
Grantham Coun. Bill Phillips said the leafy parks and streets of his north end ward are loved by its residents and the city must do what it can to make sure the city stays green.
Phillips said residents providing budget input “said loud and clear, don’t touch the money for trees.”
In addition to planting more trees on city boulevards and parks, the city is encouraging property owners to plant more trees on private property.
The city is also making tree planting part of every road or construction project.
“Trees have to become part of our infrastructure,” said Elliott.

Trees on private property

St. Catharines is considering a bylaw that would restrict or control what you can do with trees on private property.
The second of two public meetings to solicit public input will be held on Feb. 6 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Kiwanis Aquatic Centre on Niagara St.
The first meeting attracted about 50 residents, some of whom worried about city meddling and some who supported more protection for trees.
You can also provide input through the city’s online survey at Search for Private Property Tree Bylaw.