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Greening efforts likely to pay large dividends in time

PLANT MORE TREES.

That’s the gist of a green infrastructure report presented to council this week by the Township of Woolwich Environmental Enhancement Committee (TWEEC).

The report looks at Elmira, particularly the downtown core where an infestation of emerald ash borer has wiped out most of the street trees. A strategy for increasing the tree canopy in the core and across the town as a whole follows on recent greening initiatives in the township, including the Trees for Woolwich drive to plant a tree for every resident (the 23,000 goal, the township’s population at the time of launch, was hit last year).

Via a report long on the benefits of tree cover – from beautification to  temperature mitigation and managing storm-water runoff – and an inventory of existing stock, the committee makes a case for planting more trees on township property. The intent is to increase tree cover in Elmira to 30 per cent from the current 16.3 per cent. (The township effort would be in conjunction with ongoing encouragement for more planting on private property, too.)

Beyond simply planting trees, the report stresses the importance of ongoing maintenance to ensure the new trees mature and prosper, maximizing the benefits of tree cover.

Plant trees. Nurture them. There won’t be very many objections to such suggestions. Costs come into play, but those can be controlled. While the committee likens tree cover to other forms of hard infrastructure – roads, sewers – there is a difference, as the latter are essential to the day-to-day functioning of the township.

To be sure, we’re all better off with the aesthetic improvements trees bring – especially true in the less-than-stellar built environment – and the longer-term improvements that come with tree cover. Tree planting is one of those climate-change mitigation moves that few people can find fault with.

Things get a little more complicated when it comes to the idea of yet more spending on staff and consultants to essentially micromanage the process. Those kinds of expenditures can’t be justified on any large scale, though the township could certainly find internal cuts to boost spending on greening projects.

Woolwich has a multimillion-dollar deficit when it comes to traditional infrastructure. Money is already hard to come by, and even when there are funds set aside for particular projects – say, a road reconstruction – the township isn’t always able to juggle staff time and budgets was problems arise and other expenditures take precedence.

There is a constant refrain from staff about being stretched for time, not to mention budgetary worries. Formally adding to budgets for time and resources will only make things worse, particularly for taxpayers.

This week’s report touches on volunteer efforts, the kind that have driven much of the tree-planting work done in the township. That’s a much better option, even if it’s unlikely to have the same formality. Frankly, that’s not necessary. Residents have typically been eager to take part in such efforts, as both donors of time and money to plant trees and beautify the place where they live.

Volunteer-led work is not a viable option for rebuilding a road, for instance, but works very well for the kind of greening initiatives promoted by TWEEC. The township can certainly find some resources to nurture that kind of grassroots work.

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