Sunday, September 15, 2013

Think Before You Plant

A few people have asked about the motion that I put forward and which was passed at last week's council meeting - that the city stop automatically planting a tree whenever a city-owned tree is cut down.

This came about because, as part of the repairs done to the street and underlying water pipes in the 100 block of 10th Street East this summer, the boulevard on the south side of the street, and the trees on that boulevard, were removed, putting the new sidewalk right next to the roadway, and adding a couple of feet between the residential properties and the sidewalk.  And in this couple of feet, between fences and, in one case, a large hedge, the city was preparing to plant trees.  When I asked why we were going to that expense in an area where trees weren't needed, and were unlikely to thrive due to lack of room, I was told that it was city policy to replace every tree that is removed.

I'm not sure that's true.  Two years ago, after a water main break that required digging up the boulevard in front of my house, one of the aged Manitoba maples in front of our house was removed.  It hasn't been replaced.  We weren't sorry to see it go, since it was, as most of the older Manitoba maples in Midtown, decaying and risking dropping branches on the street and sidewalk.  But it hasn't been replaced, nor have we heard anything from the city about that option.  And just for the record, I don't think a tree is needed there - the visibility pulling out onto 10th Street from 4th Avenue is poor enough.

In any case, I've heard my forester wife comment often enough that proposed solutions like planting a tree for every one that is cut are making things too simple.  Part of good forestry, even urban forestry, means planting the right tree in the right place at the right time.  And one of the responsibilities of urban forestry is taking proper care of those trees that you have.  Judging by the rotten branches and stubs that I see in my walks around the downtown neighbourhoods, we don't do a good enough job of that.  There are far too many trees with dead branches that are just waiting for a good windstorm, or less, to drop, and far too many where a half-hearted pruning job has just removed part of the problem, and the rest of the crown is obviously dying.  And many of the trees planted along Central Avenue and the feeder streets need to have the grates that surround their roots cleaned out on a regular basis.   I would far rather city crews were taking care of these problems in a systematic way, than planting trees without thinking, particularly if, as often seems to be the case, the replacement trees are those same Manitoba maples that develop problems at a relatively early age.

This doesn't mean that the city won't plant replacement trees.  If one is removed from in front of your house, and you want it replaced, all you have to do is ask.  In other areas, particularly parks and medians, planting trees is more likely to be the right choice.

All I'm asking is that, rather than following a one size fits all policy, we look a little more closely to ensure that the right tree is being planted in a space where it will have room to grow to maturity, and that the decision is part of an overall plan to ensure that Prince Albert keeps its urban forest healthy and growing, providing all the benefits that trees can provide to a city.

"As the poet said 'only God can make a tree', probably because it's so hard to figure out how to get the bark on." - Woody Allen

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