Our vulnerable treasure by Jeane Jorgensen

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The December 2013 ice storm was another reminder of the treasure of one of Toronto’s vital assets—our trees.  Magnificent as they are, they are also vulnerable.  Protecting this asset will take the commitment of the Toronto City Council’s Strategic Forest Management Plan and a neighbourhood of caring property owners.

Trees are vital because of the many benefits they bring to our lives in the city; vulnerable because the urban tree canopy is aging, some trees are susceptible to forest pests, such as the emerald ash borus, and they are a target during storm events.  It is estimated that Toronto may have lost 20% of its urban tree canopy during the most recent ice storm.

Why large cities need trees – a short list of benefits

  • Health – There is ample evidence that people who live in green spaces are healthier. For example, health benefits linked to trees include:
    • Lower rates of asthma, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers
    • Lower stress levels
    • Decrease in ADHD symptoms in children

Source: Trees Canada

  • Clean air – Trees decrease carbon dioxide generated by automobiles, trucks and fossil fuel air-conditioning and heating systems.
  • Energy costs – Trees that are properly situated around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30% and can save 25% of energy used in heating (USDA Forest Service).
  • Property market value – It is estimated that trees increase property value from 7 to 19% (Trees Canada).  A U.S. website, Canopy, suggests that homes along tree-lined streets may be worth 25% more.
  • Quality of life.  Trees provide inviting and cool places for recreation and shady relaxation.

 How we can help: a City-neighbourhood solution

We live in one of the most beautiful areas in the city, partly because of the lush tree canopy that adorns our streets. In 2013 these trees suffered damage from a summer rain-wind storm and December ice storm.  To rehabilitate and grow, this canopy needs the joint attention of the City and neighbourhood.

In 2013, the Toronto City Council approved the Strategic Forest Management Plan, which includes the strategic goal of increasing canopy cover in Toronto to 40% from a current estimated 17-20% (before the December ice storm).  This goal will be achieved over the next 50 years. Rejuvenation will be seen quickly and will be lasting if the program is conducted diligently each year.

As vulnerable as trees may be when challenged, they are responsive to tree management and care.  Here are some ways the neighbourhood can help.

  • Write to the Toronto City Council commending them on their commitment, which includes planting 120,000 new trees in the next year.  This goal is in addition to recovery work connected with the 2013 storms.
  • Enhance your tree knowledge.  The LEAF organization and website http://www.yourleaf.org/ and Mark Cullen offer up-to-date information: http://www.thestar.com/life/homes/2014/01/16/we_must_rebuild_the_canopy.html
  • Nurture and plant.  This coming spring, you may wish to call in an arborist to view your personal trees. Do they need extra care this year?  Is there a location on your property where you can plant a new tree?  If you do not have an arborist, LEAF and Mark Collins offer suggestions.  Large, mature trees need pruning every 3-5 years. Call the City (311) if public trees need care.
  • Be a tree advocate. Trees can’t speak; we can.  ABCRA will support individuals who wish to advocate on behalf of trees. Contact abc@abcra.ca to learn what might be involved.

You may have other tree management ideas.  Please submit your thoughts to abc@abcra.ca.

A stronger urban tree canopy will stand sturdier against the harshness of severe storms. Like most rehabilitation programs, it will take time and dedication.  When neighbourhoods work with the City, the treasure of our urban tree canopy will rejuvenate and grow—to be enjoyed year after year.

Jeane Jorgensen
2014.01 .24