by Jennifer Humphries
It may sound strange, but trees are members of our community. In 2017, the Glebe came out strongly in support of the Canada 150 Tree Initiative, well exceeding our target of 150 trees planted. Trees, clearly, are important to us. But new trees don’t make up for the loss of mature trees that actually provide canopy.
Tree Action Now
Seeing healthy trees continuously felled by nature or builders, concerned citizens have joined to form the Tree Action Now coalition in the run-up to the municipal election. We hope to ensure the election of a new set of politicians who know and care about green communities. I’m part of this coalition, representing the Environment Committee of the Glebe Community Association (GCA) and a city-wide group, CAFES, or Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability.
The approach of Tree Action Now is to heighten awareness of the issues around trees and greenspace. For National Forest Week, September 23–30, we are inviting communities to hold neighbourhood events that demonstrate to municipal candidates that we care about and are willing to stand up for our trees and greenspaces. On the Tree Action Now website, www.treeactionnow.net, you’ll find a Lost Trees Map where you can record mature trees that have disappeared due to natural causes or development and information on the links between trees, human health, climate stability and urban planning. You will also find the changes urged by 29 community associations and environmental groups to the city’s Urban Tree Conservation Bylaw. The existing bylaw seems devised to support tree removal rather than preservation.
Central to the coalition’s aims is to find out what the candidates for city council propose to do to make Ottawa a greener place. I asked the five Capital Ward candidates to comment on two questions.
What is your (snapshot) view on the current state of the urban forest in Ottawa’s Capital Ward?
Are we doing enough to plant, nurture and preserve trees in the ward, given the dual pressures of development and more prevalent dramatic weather events due to climate change?
The following comments were extracted to represent and summarize their thinking. Their full statements are in the online Glebe Report at www.glebereport.ca. I hope they give a sense of the candidates’ commitment to trees, and their stamina and savvy to stand up for trees and greenspace within Council.
The Views of Council Candidates
- Capital Ward is fortunate in that we have a cherished legacy of old growth trees that have survived many decades…Unfortunately, that legacy is constantly under threat…my snapshot view of our urban forest is of a habitat under threat – one we must take active steps to protect.
- Ottawa’s Urban Forest Management Plan is encouraging, and within it I would like to emphasize the recommendation on neighbourhood planting plans…I am proposing the establishment of an Ottawa Tree Corps, unleashing the environmental awareness and skills development needs of our students and youth in the nurturing and expansion of our urban forest, and in the important work of advocacy regarding the trees within that forest.
- We can do better to protect and enhance tree canopy and greenspaces in Capital Ward and across the City of Ottawa. In particular, I would like to see stricter enforcement of rules and steeper fines for developers and builders who cut trees without proper authorization.
- I will push to improve the Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) by including hard targets, deadlines and appropriate funding to ensure the UFMP has staff dedicated to mapping our urban forests and maintaining them…I would link the UFMP directly to the city’s climate change mitigation plan…Not only do trees contribute to the character of our neighbourhoods, trees can help us adapt to climate change by acting as heat sink in the summer, cleaning the air of pollutants and preventing flooding.
- The urban forest is part of what makes our community great. But much of our tree stock has been lost to years of development, which disregarded the importance of urban trees. The culture of how we build and enforce bylaw at the city has not caught up to the understanding that urban forests are extremely valuable…The city commits to planting two trees for every one removed, but our newly planted trees have poor success rates given the stress of road maintenance and recurring dry conditions. As climate change brings more drastic weather patterns, our efforts to replace the century-old stock will need to amplify and use new approaches.
- The urban forest is unfortunately not seen as a forest, but as a series of trees on public and private land that are in the way of other things that are given higher value. I, along with our community and environmental advocates, have pushed for a stronger tree protection bylaw (now under review)…The Urban Forest Management Plan has the tools to protect and grow our forest, but it will need to come not only with resources, but with a change of culture and understanding around the value of trees.
- Capital Ward has lost trees on both private and public property for a variety of reasons…The forest cover is part of what makes Capital Ward a great place to live and we need to preserve what we have and add more trees whenever possible.
- New development could be managed in a way to maintain existing mature tree cover and we could focus on better planting and maintenance along our streets. Also, increasing the number of trees along the Rideau River and investing in green infrastructure would make positive contributions to the Ward overall.
- We can all be proud of our green space in Ottawa’s Capital Ward – our parks, mature trees and forest cover are part of what makes our neighbourhoods such great places to live. At the same time, we know that our urban forest is vulnerable to pests and invasive species, as well as to development in the urban core…There’s always more we can do to enhance this valuable resource…
- I was glad to see the City of Ottawa release the Urban Forest Management Plan last year…The plan is a good start, yet what we need are strong advocates within city council that will ensure the plan is implemented and its recommendations achieved. I’ve demonstrated my commitment to this issue recently in Old Ottawa East…As Councillor for Capital Ward, I would continue this work to hold the city and developers accountable and ensure we meet and exceed our environmental goals.
Jennifer Humphries is co-chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Environment Committee. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Old Ottawa East trees saved – or just reprieved?
by Jennifer Humphries
In early August, an Old Ottawa East family’s concern over the fate of two century-old sugar maples hit the media. The issue: Regional Group, builders of the 916-home Greystone Village complex on 26 acres formerly owned by the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate religious order, had determined that these two stalwarts had to come down. Many other trees on the property had been felled already, but Regional had earlier committed to the neighbours that they would preserve these two trees.
Richard Deadman and his family, whose property adjoins the Greystone site, spoke out. Supporters from the neighbourhood and across the city, including council candidates Christine McAllister and Shawn Menard, joined them in raising the issue to the broader community and to the Mayor and Ward Councillor David Chernushenko.
Admittedly boundary trees have often posed a challenge for property owners on both sides of the fence. Legal and arborist interpretations vary. But two things are sure: Ottawa needs mature trees like these native maples, and the developer told the community they could and would remain.
“I feel like it’s a David and Goliath scenario,” Richard Deadman told me. “Regional assured us that the trees would stay. Then we noticed that they were surveying around the trees and asked Regional what was going on. Regional put us off for almost a week and then told us they had applied to cut the trees down. Although we had spoken with Regional staff and thought we had a good relationship, we got no advance notice about this and had no idea why or when they had switched their decision.”
Also frustrating was the sluggish response time to obtain documentation about the Regional application from the City. “We never did get all the documents,” said Deadman. “After pressing, we finally got the legal opinion letter that Regional submitted, but not the other material such as any arborist report.
“My family and I decided to stand up to this,” he said. “We’ve seen it over and over. Something has to change.”
A tweet from Mayor Jim Watson seems to end the dispute in favour of the trees: “I have directed staff not to issue any permits to take down those two trees. The developer will have to find a way to keep the trees and live up to their original promise to the community.”
Could it be a tipping point?
Maybe, just maybe, developers will begin to think more deeply about the value of the existing urban forest, not to mention the value of a positive relationship with the surrounding community.
However, as reported by CBC, “Regional Group agreed to stall its application until September 30, while it investigates how the trees might be preserved, according to Capital Ward Councillor David Chernushenko.” So – trees saved or just reprieved?
Jennifer Humphries is co-chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Environment Committee. You can contact her at email@example.com