Halifax, like many municipalities across North America, has developed and implemented urban forest strategies to set long-term visions and objectives for their urban forests, along with specific actions to achieve them. But, has Halifax gone far enough to protect our urban forest?
In 2001, Councillor Linda Mosher wanted Regional Council to address protecting privately owned urban trees to keep Halifax as “The City of Trees”. Years later, Regional council adopted the Urban Forest Master Plan (UFMP) in 2012, which has filled our streets with 4,000 trees. In addition, they unanimously adopted a goal to “increase the amount of edibles available from the urban forest.” Unfortunately, right now, if a tree is cut down, there is no plan in place to replace it or plant a new one.
Like Halifax, urban deforestation has been a problem for the City of Vancouver. The city council estimated that over the past two decades, the tree canopy has declined by over 25 percent. Even when trees are replaced, up to 35 percent are lost or removed within the first year of being planted. Whenever a tree is removed from a private property, the city of Vancouver wants its residents to pay a security deposit to ensure that they plant a new tree and maintain it for one year.
On April 16, 2014, City Council amended the Protection of Trees Bylaw to maintain a healthy urban forest. Removed from the bylaw is the ability for an owner or builder to remove one healthy tree per year. With this amendment in place, tree removal permits will only be issued for the removal of dead, diseased, and hazardous trees, or for trees that are within a new building footprint.
There are reasons why protecting our urban forest from deforestation is important. Most people view trees as disposable and just planting a new one would be enough. When you remove that large maple at the end of your street, you lose not only the beauty of a sprawling urban canopy but the system that helps absorb carbon dioxide, pulls particulate matter from the air, prevents floods and keeps temperatures at liveable levels. As citizens, we need to pay attention and take a responsibility to ensure the success of the future trees we have planted. A by-law that holds your money may be enough to ensure you think about the tree you’re cutting and a plan to ensure that a new one is planted in our community.