No one would mistake Elmira for the glass-and-concrete jungle of Toronto, but the small, rural town lags the sprawling metropolis when it comes to tree cover. Where the city boasts a tree canopy covering some 26.6 per cent of the urban area, Elmira can claim just 16.3 per cent.
To make up ground, Elmira needs a greening strategy to bring that coverage to 30 per cent, says the Township of Woolwich Environmental Enhancement Committee (TWEEC). Meeting this week, Woolwich councillors agreed.
“We have a long way to go,” said Inga Rinne, chair of Trees for Woolwich, in making a presentation to council Tuesday night.
A study launched in 2016 resulted in the new greening plan that calls on the township to make tree coverage a priority, committing time and resources to the pursuit. In backing the plan, councillors agreed to establish a timeline for reaching the 30 per cent coverage, along with looking to free up staff resources to coordinate township-wide efforts.
The limited township resources for trees have largely been directed at clearing away dead and dying trees – the result of the emerald ash borer infestation and a series of ice and windstorms – instead of maintaining and nurturing new and existing trees, Rinne noted, adding that with yet more ash trees to be cut down, the low coverage level is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Listing off a long list of benefits – reduce stormwater run-off, mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon, providing shade/shelter to reduce cooling and heating bills, improve air quality – she said trees are an asset, representing “green infrastructure.
“Trees provide real, tangible benefits.”
TWEEC chair Susan Bryant added that storm runoff is an important function of tree cover at a time when flooding is becoming more prevalent and damaging.
Noting that volunteers will do most of the heavy lifting, including planting and maintenance, she said they’ll need support, training and central coordination from the township.
Some 23,000 trees will have to be planted in Elmira to meet the goal of 30 per cent coverage. One of the first steps will be identifying suitable areas for planting. The list will include a stretch of Arthur Street in the downtown core where the ash trees have all been removed in the past few years, leaving the area denuded of canopy coverage.
Gaining ground will require the township to boost the priority of trees in its next budget, said Bryant.
Ann McArthur, Woolwich’s director of recreation and facilities, acknowledged her department’s limited resources have been used primarily for dealing with dying trees, starting with the most dangerous ones, particularly along township trails. The cost of doing more will be looked at in the upcoming 2019 budget talks.
Director of engineering and planning Dan Kennaley, whose department looks after some township trees such as those along boulevards, said the committee’s plan poses some “implementation challenges” in coming up with resources and a timeline to deploy them. He noted there’s a definite link between the two: the greater the resources, the quicker the timeline.
That said, he added that his department is already behind on dealing with existing ash tree issues.
Likening himself to the Lorax of Dr. Seuss fame, Coun. Mark Bauman, long council’s environmental conscience, said the township needs to do better with policies governing, for instance, the health and quantities of soil used in new subdivisions in order to help the trees planted there to thrive, with measures to protect the young trees from dangers ranging from overzealous weed-whacking to road salt.
“I’m like the Lorax – I speak for the trees,” he said, noting someone else will have to pick up the mantle when he retires from council later this year. “I’m looking for the next person to be the Lorax on council.”
He also called for better tree-planting strategies to avoid the practice of randomly planting little stick trees in the middle of nowhere, say alongside a parking lot, adding he’d like to see more space in such lots dedicated to tree cover.
“Trees like friends – they like to be in a group.”
In endorsing the plan, he urged councillors to make the issue a priority in the next budget process.
His enthusiasm for the idea was shared by Coun. Patrick Merlihan.
“I don’t find it hard to support this plan,” he said.