Village Residents Concerned for our “Urban Forest”

More than 50 brave driving rain to attend BWVRA forum

High Park white oak Despite torrential rains, more than fifty Bloor West residents attended the BWVRA’s forum on our “Vanishing Urban Forest”. Guest speakers confirmed that the city’s mature tree cover is changing and is under threat – and that inadequate resources have been allocated by the City to do much about it. The meeting heard that much can, and should be done by residents to protect this key element of our natural and economic environment, and to move it up the political agenda.

The Current Situation

Toronto’s Chief Forester Richard Ubbens says aerial studies show that Toronto has a tree cover on 17 to 21% of its area. Preserving it and expanding it is a constant challenge because plans are developed but not funded by the City. He says last year’s proposals for $11 million of investment in the urban forest was reduced by Council to just $1-million. Shelley Petrie, Executive Director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, noted that ideally 40% cover is needed for a healthy urban environment. There are some 3-million trees in Toronto and only 200 forestry staff to care for them, meaning even some trees posing public safety hazards are not being dealt with. One resident who attended displayed a picture of a large tree that fell on his home after its condition was left unattended.

The Threats

Ubbens says construction of new roads and buildings eat into the city’s tree cover, while Regina Gudelis, Supervisor of Urban Forestry Planning and Protection, noted the problems of pollution, parking pads, pests, and age.

Parking pads sparked an extended debate. Gudelis says a number of Bloor West homeowners, frustrated with parking problems, have “re-landscaped” their front yards only to create illegal pads that cut into the roots of mature trees. Bylaw enforcement officers will issue stop orders if alerted to work that threatens a mature tree, either on private of public land.

Parking pad cutting into tree roots

Urban Forestry often turns down applications for new pads that threaten tree roots, but finds those decisions routinely overturned by City Councillors at Community Council. Shelley Petrie argued that their legal power to do so, should be removed.

Richard Ubbens says the parking pads issue consumes huge amounts of administrative time. Over the years he says he has seen enormous public support for them, but that they have changed the landscape to a “staggering” degree, and when people realize how much they often change their views.

Another threat to our mature trees is that which makes them so special: their age. More and more trees are coming to the end of their natural life span. The City is taking some actions to extend their lives, but resources are scarce. Regina Gudelis says it’s important for residents to care for all trees on their properties by keeping mowers and weed whackers away from surface roots, watering in dry times, and keeping them moist by applying mulch. NB: wood chips are available from the City’s Rockliffe yard.

The one long-term solution is for residents to plant young trees now to introduce a mix of ages to the canopy of the Village. The City will plant trees for free on the strip of City owned land in front of your home, but will only do so if you request one and undertake to water it regularly for the three years it takes to establish itself. Planting is best done in Fall and Spring. Call 416-338-TREE (8733) for information on species – you can order for the Spring!

Responding to a resident’s question, Richard Ubbens also noted that cutting continues in order to contain and hopefully eliminate the Asian Longhorn Beetle. But, the Emerald Ash Borer, which has moved from the U.S. into Southwest Ontario, poses an enormous risk to our trees since these imported pests have no natural predators. The City’s website has more information.

Bloor Street’s Troubled Trees

Residents asked why Bloor Street’s trees are in such poor condition and wondered whether potting them isn’t the problem. Richard Ubbens says these trees are usually over gas lines, and so have to be restricted to a shallow growth area. The pots, which have open bottoms, create extra root space above ground. The Chief Forester agreed that the pots are homely and assured the meeting that new design is nicer and larger. However, there is no plan to replace old ones because of the high cost.

Regina Gudelis says the problem with Bloor’s trees remains a mystery. Commercial trees on Annette and Dundas have done much better. But, planting in different seasons, with different varieties hasn’t worked on Bloor Street. The trees have been replaced four times in 12 years. The City will try talking to merchants about helping to care for the trees.

Pruning & Butchering

Does “pruning” go to far? Some residents have noticed crews carrying out what appear to be radical and unsightly degrees of “pruning” of mature trees. Ms. Gudelis explained that the City sometimes does major limb cutting to get trees to grow up rather than out, to deal with ones that come into contact with homes or cause excessive shadowing. She notes that people have the right to enjoy their properties and that this right is balanced against the need for large, healthy trees. Residents have the right to trim private trees overhanging their properties from neighbouring properties, but not to the degree of injuring them, which is a bylaw offence.

Guidelines, rights and responsibilities are outlined on the City’s website.

High Park maples

The Way Ahead

There are areas of the Bloor West Village where the trees on entire streets are coming of age. The canopy of trees in our area is changing. Mature trees are under increasing pressure from various threats – some of which residents can ease with due consideration and vigilance. But, the areas with the greatest potential for “reforestation” are in private hands.

Quick fixes do not usually work. Nursery trees (even larger ones) tend to fail more when replanted, then grow more slowly than ones planted as saplings. So, residents were told we need to finds spots both on their own land, and on the City owned frontage of their lots, where young large specie trees (eg: oaks) can be planted and well tended.

Residents also need to push the issue of Urban Forestry funding with our Councillors. The shortage of resources to deal with the issues residents brought to the November forum came up time and again.

Council will discuss the operations budget for Urban Forestry in January. Make your views known to the Mayor, to Councillor Saundercook, and Councillor Joe Pantalone, the point man on Council for trees.

As Shelley Petrie pointed out the issue is not just money, it’s planning. No strategy plan exists to reach the stated goal of increasing the urban canopy.

New areas for tree planting need to be opened up/created, Petrie said: parking lots in malls, boulevards, and derelict sites. Trees have yet to be worked into the planning process, making them a condition for granting zoning for extra density, for example. Trees have yet to be made part of the infrastructure (like sewer and water) of newly planned communities. Petrie points out that trees provide economic benefits (eg: energy savings from shade, water drainage) – and pointed to the State of Georgia as providing a model for the above.

FIND OUT MORE!

For information about tree bylaws, threats, what you can do, and your rights see: http://www.toronto.ca/trees/index.htm

The City’s FAQs on trees: http://www.toronto.ca/faq/trees.htm

Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) – provides links to a range of information sites, including a guide to caring for urban forests.

LEAF’s Essential guide for tree owners – bone up here! Advice on planting, caring, choosing a species, etc.

2012 Update: LEAF’s website is now at http://yourleaf.org. Their links page is now at http://yourleaf.org/links and the guide for tree owners is at http://www.yourleaf.org/tree-care-guide.

To find out about getting a free tree planted on the City owned frontage of your lot call 416-338-TREE (8733). A pamphlet is available listing and illustrating the species from which you can choose. Order now to plant for Spring ’06!

If you have any questions or comments, or want to relate an experience you’ve had, please contact us: info@bwvra.ca