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'A tree for every citizen' goal of Guelph's mayor

Mayor discusses plans at Guelph’s Urban Forest event

Planting a tree for every citizen living in Guelph might seem overly ambitious, but for Mayor Cam Guthrie, the plan can soon become a reality in the new year. 

“It’s a bodacious goal, but when I put out the idea, I was amazed by the response,” Guthrie said.

The mayor recently presented his ‘Tree for Every Citizen Plan’ to a full crowd at the University of Guelph Arboretum. 

The event, ‘Guelph’s Urban Forest: The Growth and Stewardship of Guelph Tree Canopy for 2020 and Beyond’, was hosted by Guelph Urban Forest Friends (GUFF). 

“It’s exciting to have the mayor on board, to see how excited he is about planting trees,” says GUFF coordinator, Sue Rietschin, 

Planning has already begun and in the new year, Guthrie says it will be about action. 

“I want to see outcomes and I want to see the community take part in this. School boards can have their students take part in planting and various other organizations can also help. All in all, it’s a community objective,” Guthrie said. 

“The response so far has been incredible from everyone, regardless of demographics. Plus, public or private, people are wanting to donate. They immediately wanted to sign up and help.”

According to Guthrie, arable spaces in the city are currently being identified and a comprehensive urban study will be completed in December. 

The report will identify where tree planting is best suited as well as the best trees for each area.

“In the first quarter of next year, it’s important that organizations and individuals show their support for this document moving forward, a strategic plan to strengthen our urban forest.”

But, it’s not just about planting trees according to Timea Filer, urban forest field technologist with the City of Guelph. 

Filer presented information on growing a sustainable forest, what has been achieved in the first five years of the Urban Forest Management Plan and the plan’s goals looking ahead at the next five years. 

The 20-year plan was approved in 2012 and implemented in 2013. 

So far, the plan has brought about increased staff numbers, including an urban forest working group, expanded tree capacity and ongoing control of the emerald ash borer, (EAB) which also falls under its own plan.

From 2014 to 2019, over 10,000 trees have been removed because of local EAB infestation. 

“Half were removed on streets and in parks and the other half, in natural areas. And we are still not finished,” Filer says. “With our treatment program, we continue to try to reduce and mitigate the impact.”

An urban forest includes all trees and other vegetation in and around a town, village or city which people depend on and which provides many social, environmental and economic benefits.

Urban forests promote physical activity and mental well being, reduce air pollution, provide wildlife habitats, increases property values and provide spaces for recreation.

“Our vision is to increase the urban forest canopy, tree protection, tree establishment and stewardship by protecting enhancing and engaging all stakeholders,” Filer said. 

“We want to build on our successes but it’s also about building community.”

Since 2013, the city has increased management of natural areas and has removed large amounts of invasive plant species like buckthorn by using mechanical and herbicide methods.

But Filer says that with the plan, there are always challenges along the way including invasive species, wildlife, weather, infrastructure conflicts, development and lack of resource knowledge. 

“We’ve had six major storm occurrences which we’ve had to recover from,” she said. 

“But with that, we are well on our way. It’s much more than just planting a few trees in the ground. It’s about protecting and caring for what we have now and looking after our mature trees. Trees have benefits later in their life. We want to make sure they stay there.”

The first five years of the plan were foundation building and in the next five, Tibia says the city will continue to build on its ongoing efforts to preserve the urban forestry canopy in the city. 

“The goal for the next five years is to transition from reactive to proactive management where we can anticipate the unknown,” Filer said. 

With the Urban Forest Study and a Natural Heritage Action Plan underway, Filer says the city will also consider renewing private tree by-laws and explore a need for public tree by-laws. 

The next five years will also see an increase in planting strategies to meet canopy goals, greater staff capacity in Parks Operations and Forestry and the development of forest management plans. 

The benefits of protecting and growing Guelph’s urban forest are catching on as more and more is being done alongside dedicated community organizations and residents. 

“It’s not just about the trees, but about all of the little treasures that come with them,” Filer said. 

Other community organizations spoke of their tree-planting efforts including Trees for Guelph, Ontario Public Interest Research Group Guelph, (OPIRG-Guelph) and the University of Guelph Arboretum. 

In the past 20 planting seasons, Trees for Guelph has had thousands of students and residents contribute their time by planting over 100,000 trees in the city. 

The Speed River Project grew out of OPIRG-Guelph’s annual Speed River Cleanup which began in 1979. 

Over 9,846 native trees have been planted. 

“The city of Guelph has emerged as a leader in tree planting,” said Kiran Bhattarai, Speed River project coordinator, OPIRG. 

And, the University of Guelph Arboretum, has planted over 18,000 trees as part of their continued tree planting efforts. 

“Volunteers and community organizations are always coming to help plant,” says Sean Fox, manager of horticulture at the University of Guelph Arboretum. 

“It will be 50 years next year. And all of these efforts bring us to where we are today.”

Other event supporters included the Guelph Tool Library, Pollination Guelph, Nature Guelph and Yorklands Green Hub. 

As event host, GUFF continues to work through education and advocacy, to maintain and increase the health, integrity and area of Guelph’s urban forest. 

The group says that the ecological and social benefits that trees provide offer immense value to everyone, whether the trees are on public or private property.

“It’s exhilarating to see so many people here, people who love trees,” Rietschin said. 

“This is a celebration for our growth in Guelph’s urban forest.”

To learn more about the city of Guelph’s Tree bylaw and the Urban Forest Management Plan, visit here.