Urban tree protection plan in the works for the City of Ottawa

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Long-term plan to help trees flourish will replace mix of policies, programs

By Kate Porter, CBC News

The City of Ottawa will start crafting a strategy this fall to protect urban trees and ensure a healthy canopy in the future.

"There are all kinds of stresses on our urban trees and forests," said David Chernushenko, city councillor for Capital Ward and chair of the city's environment committee.

"There's always reasons to cut them down, take them away, not replant major trees, but it takes real work to do the opposite."

While many cities have long-term visions and overarching plans for their urban forests, Ottawa currently has only a medley of policies, regulations and programs related to trees.

"It's 100 per cent necessary and we're very excited that we're going down this route," said Velta Tomsons, who leads a campaign for the organization Ecology Ottawa that is seeking to plant one million trees in Ottawa by 2017.

"We are in a time of need."

Trees under stress in city

Twenty-five per cent of the city's trees are ash and are dying or dead from an invasive beetle called the ash borer.

At the same time, Tomsons said, trees in cities suffer when people walk on their roots or salt runs into the soil.

So-called "heritage trees" have been cut down, she said, and it's hard to save trees during infill projects and development.

A focus on urban intensification has not helped the protection of trees, Chernushenko agreed.

He said he's also concerned about future spells of very wet or hot weather.

"Now, particularly, we need to look at it all through the frame of climate change," said Chernushenko.

"We are seeing all around us trees that aren't turning the nice vibrant colours. They're going slowly brown. Many of them are under severe stress."

Public consultations planned for November

The City will hold a tree expo at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne on Sept. 23 to celebrate National Tree Day and inform the public about the upcoming urban forest management strategy.

The event, from 6 to 8 p.m. will also include a keynote presentation from Philip van Wassenaer, a leading expert in the subject.

Chernushenko said it will be important for residents to participate in public consultations, which should begin in November.

He hopes the new strategy will offer guidance to landowners, both residential and commercial, on how to protect the trees on their properties.

City staff anticipate it should take a year and a half to complete.