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Urban forest master plan

Tribune photo

A new tree bylaw passed by council in 2010 tightened the city’s control over tree cutting, but council decided not to extend the bylaw to lots smaller than half an acre.

Guelph urban forest master plan nod doesn’t mean it’s a go

When council deals with the city’s 2013 budget in early December, one of the pressures driving the budget up will be needs linked to Guelph’s trees, which are facing serious threats.
“We are really at the point where every mature tree on every lot is precious,” Sierra Club of Canada local representative Judy Martin said before council gave the nod at its last meeting to a new 20-year plan for managing the city’s tree canopy.
Although council gave unanimous approval in principle to the urban forest management plan, funding for it won’t be debated until council sets the 2013 city budget in early December.
It’s estimated the operating and capital costs of implementing the plan would total $5.5 million between 2013 and 2017, with a further $6 million needed from 2018-2022.   About half of the management plan cost is attributed to the need to develop and implement a strategy for dealing with the emerald ash borer, a beetle that threatens to decimate the city’s ash trees over the next 10 years.
The city needs to beef up its urban forestry staff with four new employees next year, a city staff report says. That’s a big part of the $683,000 in additional operating spending being proposed for 2013 to start implementing the new urban forest management plan.
This additional spending would translate into a 0.39% increase in the amount of money the city needs to raise through property taxes next year, the report says. It’s being proposed as a “new service expansion package” to be considered by council in December.
The budget guideline set by council in July – to keep the city’s 2013 budget increase to 3% or less – applies only to the city’s base budget, not to expansion items like this one, which would be additional.
The urban forest management plan, which has been seven years in the making, has drawn mostly favourable reviews from local groups interested in the issue.
“Overall, the Sierra Club believes it is an excellent document that will serve residents well,” Martin told council late last month, urging that funding be provided for the plan as soon as possible.
The city has been losing thousands of trees to development in recent years, she said, citing city projects such as the Hanlon Creek Business park as well as private developments.
However, Martin criticized the plan for failing to recognize what she called an immediate need for an inventory of all tree removals in the city. She also said the Sierra Club wants the city to move quickly to regulate tree removal on private lots under one-half acre in size.
A new tree bylaw passed by council in 2010 tightened the city’s control over tree cutting, but council decided not to extend the bylaw to lots smaller than half an acre. The typical residential lot in Guelph is about one-quarter of an acre.
Dave Sills, president of the Guelph Civic League, called the new urban forest management plan “a critical tool that will allow the city to properly manage its green infrastructure.”
The plan is “a good one and a long time coming,” said Sills, who also wanted the city to move more quickly on some aspects of protecting trees in the city.
Coun. Leanne Piper called the plan “the culmination of an incredible amount of work by our staff over two terms of council.”
She said the threat posed by the emerald ash borer had delayed finalization of the urban forest management plan. A specific plan for fighting this beetle has yet to be fleshed out, she said.
Hugh Whiteley, a retired U of G professor who regularly comments on environment-related issues at council, said the new urban forest management plan “presents a minimum, but efficient and effective, allocation of resources to this important task.”
The only naysayer was Frieda Steiger, who wrote a letter to council questioning whether dense residential tree cover is a good thing.
“Trees have their place,” she said. “But under trees and in their shade, no vegetables will grow. Isn’t this segment of environmental sensitivity also important, that we try and grow our own food?”
Guelph has experienced unprecedented growth in the past 25 years, from a population under 80,000 in 1986 to an estimated population of about 125,000 now, says the staff report. It says the city is expected to add 50,000 more people by 2031.
The housing and other needs of this growing population, combined with threats of “pests, pathogens and the environmental stresses associated with climate change, make maintaining and enhancing the city’s urban forest very challenging,” it says. The city’s urban forest includes all of the treed areas and individual trees within city limits, the report said. “All of these trees form part of the city’s green infrastructure, which sustains the community by filtering air pollution, providing shade, contributing to flood control, reducing local energy use, sequestering carbon and bringing nature to the city.”
As well, it said, “natural tree cover also provides a wide range of human health benefits that have yet to be fully valued.”

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