GUELPH — Much has been done on paper, but as yet those emerging paper plans haven’t been shaped into action on the ground when it comes to Guelph’s ambitious urban forestry management plan.
The city’s planning and building, engineering and environment committee voted to receive a report from consultants Urban Forest Innovations Incorporated and Beacon Environmental on Tuesday. The vote keeps the planning process in motion.
A vision of Guelph covered in a sprawling green canopy, and a plan to make that happen, has now been in the works for five years, and the canopy has not expanded over that time – in fact, it has shrunk.
The plan, with a proposed start-up in 2013, calls for a coordinated, multi-departmental effort to plant more trees, protect and care for existing trees, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new personnel and equipment to nearly double the city’s tree cover within the next 20 years.
Back in 2007, the city’s strategic plan outlined a grand goal to be the most forested community of its size in the country, with a 40 per cent tree cover by 2020. At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Karen Farbridge conceded the target date is likely not achievable and should probably be amended.
Currently about 20 per cent of the city is forested, and with severe storms in the summer months – like one last year that toppled hundreds of trees throughout the community – and the recognized threat of the Emerald Ash Borer and other invasive, tree-destroying species, the existing canopy is under threat.
A $30,000 tree canopy study released in January estimated the coverage at 20 per cent, and found that the city’s natural wooded areas had shrunk by 46 hectares since 2009. Last month, Farbridge reasserted the goal to “have the highest tree canopy coverage among comparable communities.”
According to the Urban Forest Stewardship Network, urban areas in Canada are about 19 per cent forested.
In its report to the committee on Tuesday, the consultants outlined the many goals of the urban forestry management plan, including the establishment of a more comprehensive tree inventory program, consistent monitoring of the urban forest, fostering a “tree friendly” culture in the community, and identifying and utilizing “all plantable spots” in the city.
The proposed plan includes 21 recommendations, including the creation of a senior urban forester position, and the formation of an internal interdepartmental ‘tree team’ to oversee plans and find solutions.
Beacon Environmental planning ecologist Margot Ursic said the city’s current staffing and resource allocations are inadequate to move the city forward on the plan. The report recommends an expenditure of $520,000 in the first year – $400,000 for 4.5 full time equivalent positions, $100,000 for studies and $20,000 for education and promotional costs. It also recommends capital expenditures of $138,000 in the first year for new rooting technologies and forestry equipment.
The presence of the Emerald Ash Borer has been confirmed in Guelph, and the report states that the Ash-destroying insect “will quickly spread and kill the Ash tree population.” An Emerald Ash Borer strategy is needed immediately.
During discussion at the meeting, Todd Salter, Guelph’s acting general manager, said a strategy is currently being worked on, with an annual $400,000-$500,000 in funding in the capital budget for the problem. A report and action plan is expected in April. The problem is assisting with the funding.
Ursic said during Tuesday’s presentation to the committee, that Guelph has no mechanism in place that identifies trees as an important asset in the city, nor one that tracks municipal tree removals and plantings.
She is recommending a public tree by-law that would apply the same protective standards that govern private trees.
A stakeholder meeting and public open house will be scheduled and city staff will report back to council with a final recommended plan later this year.