MOUNT FOREST ‒ The Mount Forest Green Team wants Wellington North to prioritize protecting its existing tree canopy in the face of new development.
Delegating to council Monday evening, the environmental group, formerly known as the United Church Green Team, is a community group of almost 20 residents advocating for a bylaw to protect and improve Mount Forest's existing tree canopy.
Of the county's seven municipalities, Centre Wellington, Guelph/Eramosa, and Minto currently have specific bylaws protecting municipal trees while Mapleton, Erin, Puslinch and Wellington North's bylaws focus on forestry.
"We're very concerned about the amount of municipal trees being cut down with no concern as to the environmental impact," said the group's head and environmentalist, Daphne Rappard. "It's always just 'construction has to happen, the trees have to go.'"
This summer, the group completed an inventory of all municipal trees, identifying, measuring and counting all trees in public spaces as a first step in what they hope will eventually translate into the township's new tree protection bylaw.
"We need to find a way where we can still go ahead with necessary construction and save the trees," said Rappard. "I hope that we can increase awareness
in officials to take into consideration that we can't just do business as usual, we have to change the way we do things."
In addition to their work regarding the tree protection bylaw, the group is currently asking council to put a hold on the reconstruction of John and Fergus Street North in Mount Forest until a "thorough investigation" has been completed regarding alternative methods of construction.
Tentative design plans shared during a capital project information meeting in October recently proposed removing 45 trees to facilitate above and underground utility upgrades, as well as sidewalk expansions to the concern of several residents.
"Yes sidewalks and infrastructure have to be done but we have a responsibility to the environment and our future," said Rappard, whose delegation during the meeting was met with applause. "Obviously you can't save every tree and you have to prioritize but we are supposed to be addressing climate change and we're failing miserably for a town called Mount Forest."
But while the township said they would offer replanting opportunities for any residents affected by the proposed tree removal, Rappard argued that "replanting is not good enough."
In 2021, of the 50 municipal trees removed, only seven were replaced.
"Replacing one of those huge trees isn't done by planting a sapling," said Rappard. "Once you cut a tree down, it's gone and too many people feel they can just plant new ones."
Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.