Tree allies fight for canopy

pg16-n-treesUrban forest advocate Angela Keller-Herzog framed by towering trees along Frank Street in Centretown’s Golden Triangle area. Kelsey Curtis, Centretown NewsThe Centretown Citizens Community Association and Dalhousie Community Association have teamed up with four other neighbourhood groups to voice their concerns about the protection of Ottawa’s urban forest.

On Nov. 21, the group submitted a report to the city highlighting issues in the Ottawa Urban Forest Management Plan 2018-2037, which was launched in September 2015. The coalition also made several recommendations to ensure the city takes an action-oriented approach to protecting trees in the downtown area.

“If provisions aren’t included to immediately and urgently apply the proper planning that we need to establish trees in the community, we may lose much of the canopy,” said CCCA president Tom Whillans, who is also chair of the association’s trees and greenspace committee. “I don’t think anyone in the city would say that’s OK.”

In addition to the CCCA and DCA, the coalition known as the Urban Core Community Associations includes the Glebe Community Association, Ottawa East Community Association, Lowertown Community Association and Action Sandy Hill. The coalition drafted the report as part of its participation in the second phase of the consultation process, which began in May.

The UCCA, led by the Glebe’s Angela Keller-Herzog, said it is pleased that the city has taken on the urban forest project. However, she said one of the group’s main concerns is whether the city’s plan has teeth and whether the recommendations will ultimately lead to action. Of the plan’s 30 recommendations, only six are action-oriented and they are not scheduled to start until 2022.

 “This lag is disheartening at a time when development is so intense in the area,” said Wendy Hunter, chair of the DCA’s greenspace committee. “We are strong advocates for increased urban density and public transportation but refuse to accept that this means that our urban core streets are to become increasingly treeless.”

One gap in the city’s plan that the coalition would like to see addressed is a proactive tree replacement strategy for streets and parks. Other areas of improvement include increased use of green infrastructure and storm-water management.

The UCCA also suggests creating bylaws to enforce the protection of the city’s trees. Whillans said the many mature trees found throughout Centretown and in the Golden Triangle are particularly vulnerable.

“Without a coherent protection of larger trees and smaller trees, there’s a very large generational gap in the forest canopy,” he said.

The city regulates trees with a 50-centimetre diameter at breast height (DBH). The coalition would like this provision to be reviewed and updated in accordance with other municipalities in Ontario that regulate trees with a DBH between 20 and 40 centimetres. The coalition also suggests the city require tree disclosure information for applications to infill projects, as well as providing tools to ensure tree protection during urbanization, intensification and infill proceedings.

Hunter said the rapid loss of tree canopy as well as space for healthy growth of replacement trees has become a growing problem due to major construction downtown, including the LRT and LeBreton Flats developments.

“Better city planning standards, specifications and enforcement of bylaws for the growth and preservation of healthy trees is needed now,” she said.

Ottawa’s urban forest includes over 150,000 trees along urban streets and tens of thousands more trees in parks and open spaces. The tree canopy offers many benefits including responding to climate change by improving air quality, supporting physical and mental health and wellbeing, and increasing property value and boosting local economic activity.

Keller-Herzog said the coalition’s next steps are to consult with city councillors to raise awareness of this issue. She said she hopes that the city will take their recommendations into consideration before the city report goes to the environment committee next year.

Martha Copestake, the city’s UFMP project leader, said city staff is currently reviewing the feedback.

“The input that we have received … will be fundamental in improving the UFMP and in bringing it from a draft to a final plan ready for implementation,” she said.

Copestake added that an “as we heard it” report will be posted on the project website early next year and from there the project team will work on finalizing the draft.