Ecology Ottawa Voices Support for Tree-Planting Strategy

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We delegated to City Council's Environment and Climate Change Committee at their June 18 meeting on the City's Tree-Planting Strategy. Developing the Tree-Planting Strategy is the main activity of the second management period of the City's Urban Forest Management Plan, which seeks to increase our tree canopy to 40 per cent.

The proposed Strategy has a couple exciting developments: 1) a proactive approach to planting trees in the right-of-way, and 2) a program to offer residents trees to plant on their own property. We heartily support both of these in principle, even if we have some suggestions on how to improve them. Please read our delegation below for more informationor simply watch it here.

 


Thank you for the opportunity to address you. I’m doing so on behalf of Ecology Ottawa.

We’re pleased to see the proactive approach to tree-planting on the right-of-way proposed in this report. The climate and biodiversity crises demand immediate, decisive action, and this proposed measure will help address both: more trees in right-of-ways will increase food and habitat for wildlife, help manage stormwater and mitigate the heat island effect, and provide much-needed shade to people walking, rolling, biking, or sitting along our streets. A proactive approach enjoys substantial community support, as the survey showed.

This said, we’d like to see the targets increased. The target of 2,000 trees annually proposed in the report will only keep up with right-of-way trees lost. While we’re short on recent data on our canopy cover, five years ago our city-wide average cover was 31% in the urban area—and it’s hard to imagine with the derecho, ice storm, tornadoes, and normal tree loss that this percentage has increased. We need targets that increase tree cover. We also recall that the mayor promised that 1 million trees would be planted during this term of Council. We don’t know where that promise stands, but it’s hard to believe it’s been fulfilled. (Image: Graphic showing the benefits of trees. Source: Ottawa's Urban Forest Management Plan.)

 

Where would funds for this come from? In part, we stand by our request during Budget 2024 considerations last fall for increased funding to accelerate the UFMP’s implementation. But in part, we think the City needs to start accounting in monetary terms for the benefits that trees offer, which we know vastly exceed the cost to purchase, plant, and maintain them. Trees are an excellent investment, and we should be forthright and precise about this.

We’re also pleased to see the roll-out of this program informed by a tree equity analysis. Research shows that low canopy cover often correlates with communities with equity-deserving populations. The Official Plan’s commitment to equity demands that we prioritize these communities.

Moving on to the Commemorative Tree Program: this is a great way to get more trees in the ground and forge personal connections to them—to say nothing of the commemorating itself. We noted, however, that the commemoration of pets is not recommended, without any reason given. We think these pet commemoration should be admissible. Apart from people’s valid desire to honour animal companions, the program is intended to operate on a cost-recovery basis; allowing pet commemoration just means more trees in the ground, so we all benefit.

Finally about the Private Land Tree Planting Program: we’re pleased to see this program too. As you may know, Ecology Ottawa has distributed over 60,000 seedlings for planting on private property over the last 10 years, so we’re pleased to see the City catching on to the idea. (As an aside, we’d be happy to share our experiences with this program beyond those mentioned in our report online.)

But we think the selection of recipients is critical. Research shows that civic engagement correlates to higher incomes, for example, and so without intervention, those most in a position to take advantage of the program are those least in need of it. Moreover, the report recommends 50 trees per ward per year, plus an additional 50 trees for priority areas. For one thing, 50 trees for priority areas seems far too low: these have to be spread across the entire city. For another, canopy coverage varies substantially from one ward to another: our latest numbers have Somerset Ward at 22% tree cover and College Ward at 48%—more than double. But also, even within wards, coverage varies substantially from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. At the very least, site selection for distribution should be done at the neighbourhood level. In fact, almost 2,000 people signed our petition calling for a neighbourhood-level application of our city’s canopy targets.

Finally, species selection. The report mentions privileging species diversity and the tallest trees that sites will allow. These are both good, but we must also privilege native species—and ideally keystone species—if we want to benefit the ecosystem.

Thank you for your time.

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