Urban forests in Canada face a diversity of issues environmentally, socially, and economically. Research shows that issues include invasive insects, diverse cultural perspectives, and a lack of funding for proactive maintenance. Trees are often underrepresented in our cities and need advocates to help integrate them into the urban landscape.
This push toward greater awareness has inspired new and continued programs and projects across the country. Canadian environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) are working hard to help preserve and maintain our urban forest resources at the local, regional, and national levels. Many ENGOs and municipalities are working in tandem:
In Atlantic Canada, the Town of Truro has initiated planting programs with Canada World Youth by engaging participants from Indonesia and Cuba; annually, the town provides lands within the forested watershed area to Scouts Canada; and more recently, Truro hopes to partner with Colchester Community Workshops, a vocational training centre for adults with special needs and ties to the local food bank, to provide garden plots and fruit orchards.
In Quebec, the Société de verdissement du Montréal métropolitain (soverdi.org) is an urban greening group that focuses on large tree and shrub plantings across the City of Montreal, its school grounds, and parks. Another well-known group, Les amis de la montagne (lemontroyal.qc.ca), through its advocacy work, strives to preserve Mount Royal’s history and environmental integrity through education and community stewardship in partnership with the city.
In Ontario, Forests London focuses on schoolyard greening and youth leadership through their Tree Captains program, and they also provide commentary and feedback on development proposals. LEAF is another locally focussed green organization with a mandate to plant and steward urban trees in the Greater Toronto Area with a strong focus on private lands through their Backyard Tree Planting Program.
In the Prairies, the group now known as Trees Winnipeg (originally known as the Coalition to Save the Elms) has expanded its mandate to broader preservation of the city’s urban forests; they offer resources and education about the benefits of trees and green spaces. The cities of Calgary and Edmonton have stakeholder engagement strategies and programs including Neighborwoods, Adopt-a-park in Calgary, and Friends of the River Valley in Edmonton. Smaller communities have also made considerable efforts in recent years with their urban forestry programs, such as the Town of Olds, the City of Leduc, and the Town of Banff.
On the Pacific coast, the City of Coquitlam’s tree planting program, Growing Community Roots, with support from TD, works with established neighbourhoods and homeowners to plant and care for trees. The City of Surrey is also doing work in promoting urban forestry by encouraging children to build things in the park and stroll off the beaten paths with programming through the Surrey Nature Centre at Green Timbers Park. The City of Kelowna’s Arboretum planted along the path circling Mission Recreation Park and Belmont Park is an innovative project made possible through municipal, corporate, and ENGO collaboration (including the City of Kelowna, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, and Tree Canada).
At the provincial level, the Ontario Urban Forest Council (OUFC), is a leader in advocating broadly about urban forests. In Alberta, the Society to Prevent Dutch Elm Disease (STOPDED) focuses on preventing the spread of Dutch elm disease (DED) across the province and is doing great work promoting urban forestry to all its members and to the public at large.
From a government point of view, there are few provincial jurisdictions with a strong interest in, and mandate for, urban forestry. The current leader in this regard is the Government of Manitoba; they not only have a policy for DED, they also have a mandatory tree pruners licence for practicing arborists—a topic that needs much attention, as national recognition for arboriculture as a profession and trade is sorely lacking in Canada. They offer stories from the field that appeal to a deeper understanding and engagement with social arboriculture that can, in turn, help inform urban forestry praxis at the policy level.
At a federal level, although interest is growing, there is a lack of urban forestry representation. While Tree Canada (treecanada.ca) is the leading ENGO with national-scope urban forestry programs (including the Canadian Urban Forest Strategy, Network, and Conference), making inroads for federal support and recognition is a slow process.
More collaboration between organizations and municipalities is needed. Municipalities are well situated to better enable ENGOs to continue doing their work. Most not-for-profit groups offering planting programs can easily attain the necessary resources for planting, but better access to municipal land is needed. In addition to making their own staff available, municipalities can help improve publicity and networking opportunities for local ENGOs with whom they have partnered by linking to the initiatives (such as through social media). Lastly, to better enable ENGOs, municipalities can more effectively integrate them in the policy-making process, consider co-delivering programs, and have them review development proposals, as they often have technical expertise and credentials that may be an asset. Other tasks cities can take is to have an urban forest or environmental management plan that integrates and works with all departments affected—from town planning, building inspection, engineering, public works, parks, and green space—and then facilitate external communication with ENGOs and developers. In addition, policies and tree bylaws have been adopted in many municipalities, but could be better enforced with larger economic penalties.
There are also many benefits for municipalities working with ENGOs. For example, non-government groups can deliver messages to the public that may potentially be better received from an environmental group rather than from the city (such as insect infestation information and invasive species remediation policies). This offers credibility. Secondly, ENGOs can help augment and extend any existing planting programs. Thirdly, ENGO networks are an effective way to engage leading corporate sponsors in municipal greening programs and networking opportunities (such as Tree Canada, TD, and local mayors). As an example, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation is a leading supporter of innovative urban greening programs across the country with multiple partners.
An example of effective collaboration is between the City of Toronto’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division, Toronto Public Health, and the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition. This partnership led to the development of North America’s first shade policy and guidelines in 2010. The policy stipulates that the provision of adequate shade whether natural or constructed should be a key consideration in the planning and design of all city-owned and operated outdoor venues, especially where children are in attendance. In light of the recent report by TD Economics on the value (both economic and social) of Toronto’s urban forest, such a policy has never been more important.
Many organizations and municipalities in Canada are working hard to preserve and maintain our forest resources, but more collaboration is needed to help enable and empower one another. As a national leader in urban forestry, Tree Canada plays an integral role: first, by delivering flagship programs, such as TD Green Streets; and second, through the national urban forestry portfolio by engaging citizens in urban forest education, sharing knowledge, growing the national network, providing strategic direction, and bringing organizations together in a cross-cultural, pan-national collaborative learning commons.
Adrina Bardekjian is a PhD candidate and the urban forests program manager with Tree Canada.