Urban Forest Master Plan takes root at Dalhousie

- December 11, 2013

A digital view of the land that's considered Halifax's urban forest.
A digital view of the land that's considered Halifax's urban forest.

Winter is coming, and tree planting throughout Halifax will be in hibernation mode until spring.

But that doesn’t give Peter Duinker of the School for Resource and Environmental Studies and his students that much time to reflect on the implementation of the city’s first Urban Forest Master Plan (UMFP).

“There were a few bumps, but we managed to get a lot of trees in the ground,” says Prof. Duinker of the 2013 planting season.

This year, Dr. Duinker, in collaboration with HRM’s urban forestry staff, oversaw the planting of more than 1,500 trees throughout the city under the UFMP. The plan is to improve the city’s urban forest, and ensure a sustainable future for trees and biodiversity in Halifax. An urban forest refers to all the trees in a city, from the canopy in Point Pleasant Park to the trees lining the streets of the downtown core.

“When you consider the value you get out of a tree in the street, it’s astonishing that we don’t have more trees in the streets,” says Dr. Duinker.

Prof. Duinker and the UFMP team identified at least 40 benefits trees bring to cities — and they want Halifax to reap the rewards.

“We want to have the trees grow up and provide shade, we want them to make the environment more pleasant to look at, we want the trees to slow down the movement of storm water to the sewage treatment plants… we want the cooling effects in summer, we want the wind to be ameliorated in winter so buildings require less heat.”

Some species planted by contractors and city staff under the UFMP include red oak, pin oak, elm, white pine, red spruce and sugar maple trees.

“The approach is to shift away from the alien tree species that don’t grow naturally in Nova Scotia and give the urban forest along the streets a higher complement of native species,” says Dr. Duinker.

Halifax joins around 15 other Canadian cities to implement an UFMP. But Dr. Duinker thinks the HRM’s is one of the best.

“With an extreme amount of bias, I would suggest no city has a plan as detailed and comprehensive as HRM now has.”

Pilot projects

Although the UFMP identifies 111 neighbourhoods throughout the HRM’s urban forest, the team targeted five neighbourhoods with sparse tree populations to conduct their pilot implementation over the next five years: Colby Village, Connaught/Quinpool, Eastern Passage, Fairview and the North End.

Although the city’s canopy cover sits around 50 per cent, some areas severely lack trees. For example, the downtown core only has a six or seven percent canopy cover, says John Charles, a city planner and project lead of the UFMP implementation.

“The regional number wasn’t informative for decision-making,” says Charles. “In order to make proper decisions, you have to do the planning at a neighbourhood or local scale.”

Charles says over the next five years the team will use the pilot neighbourhoods to determine the best ways to improve other neighbourhoods in Halifax’s urban forest. He says the city is also prioritizing the effectiveness of regulations to protect trees, and the promotion of public education and stewardship of the city’s biodiversity.

“It’s important to have that outreach and public education so people know there are responsibilities, but also rewards,” he says.

Phase two

Dr. Duinker says communities around the HRM have been “overwhelmingly supportive” of the UFMP so far.

“People who respond actively to the city and to me… more than nine out of 10 are saying very positive things and are delighted that the city is moving in a direction to improve the urban forest.”

Although trees can’t be planted in the winter, the UFMP team is gearing up for the next phase of the plan: pruning.

“Planting trees is seen by so many people as a good thing to do. But what we haven’t gauged yet is the public reaction to the pruning program that’s about to take place imminently,” said Dr. Duinker.

The pruning program, which runs from December to March, helps keep the trees in good health and shapes them so they require less maintenance. This will maintain a healthy urban forest and, hopefully, save some tax dollars.

“We’ve never done this kind of cyclical pruning before,” says Dr. Duinker. “We’ve only done reactionary pruning either for power lines or dead branches.

“The hope is high, but so is the risk,” he says.


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