Friday, January 08, 2010

Draft Saanich Urban Forest Strategy

Today is the final day for comments on the Draft Urban Forest Strategy for Saanich. This is my quick review and comments

The goals of the Saanich Urban Forest Strategy are:

  • Goal 1 Protect trees and expand the forest canopy
  • Goal 2 Respond to the changing environment
  • Goal 3 Engage the community
  • Goal 4 Promote effective management
  • Goal 5 Regulate arboricultural practices

Coming out of this are six priorities

  • Priority 1 Inventory the urban forest
  • Priority 2 Amend the Tree Preservation Bylaw, 1997, No. 7632
  • Priority 3 Coordinate urban forest management between District departments
  • Priority 4 Develop Urban Forest Design Guidelines
  • Priority 5 Protect and enhance Garry oak and their associated ecosystems
  • Priority 6 Increase community awareness, education and stewardship opportunities

The document then outlines details of what is needed to achieve the goals through existing ongoing actions and recommended new actions. There is a very long list of recommended new actions, more than I can get into reading in detail this morning. What I can take away from it is that if adopted it will be much, much harder to take down trees.

The document notes that between 1986 and 2005 tree cover with a density of more than 50% had fallen by 583 hectares, about 12% of the total forest cover. There are a host of reasons this could be and this measure is not necessarily a useful one as many of the urban trees in Saanich are in locations without a dense tree canopy.

The more interesting statistic is impervious surfaces in Saanich went from 911 ha in 1986 to 1023 ha in 2005. Impervious surfaces are buildings and pavement, anything which covers the ground completely - rock counts as impervious. Increased impervious surfaces means concentration of pollutants in run off, impacts on the water table, impacts on water flows and water courses, and reduction of ground growing any plants.

Urban areas suffer from too much land being covered over. Saanich sits at the headwaters of many of the small creeks in the core of Victoria and has a significant impact on them if the ground is sealed.

Interesting that the draft strategy keeps mentioning the planting of fruit and nut trees. Sounds nice, but left to their own without supervision many of these sort of trees do not thrive. My experience is that few people are willing to pick fruit off of 'public' trees.

Issues With the Draft:
Is there really a need for a stronger tree preservation bylaw? Are their not enough public lands to plant trees on to compensate? One only needs to look at most of the school grounds in Saanich and see how empty they are. Tillicum School has a single tree on a whole city block. Coquitz has acres of grass and no trees. It seems a diversion to focus on single trees on private properties.

My ongoing concern is that the local government wants to off load the costs of public policy direction from the public sector to the private sector. This is the effective impact of a tree bylaw.

No focus on indigenous trees and imported varieties concerns. Many of the trees planted are not local. There should be no restriction on removing trees that are not local. Saanich should develop a policy to remove all non-native species from public lands and replace them with native ones.

No focus on trees being killed in parks by invasive species - the number of Douglas Firs that I have seen been choked by ivy in Knockan Hill, Cuthbert Holmes and Mount Douglas Park is huge. Instead of stopping homeowners from taking down individual trees, Saanich should look at expending much more energy and resources on combating the parks that are being destroyed.

In the case of Cuthbert Holmes, there are many acres of blackberries that need to be eradicated and should be replaced with Douglas Firs and Garry Oaks. Saanich management of Cuthbert Holmes could at best be described as neglect. Saanich should dedicate two to three full time parks staff, and enough equipment, to this one park. This one action will have much more impact on the urban forest than all the time and energy spent on tree bylaws.

Leaving invasive species removal to volunteers is really Saanich abrogating responsibility. Volunteers working by hand are not nearly as effective as a team of people working with power tools and equipment able to cart off the waste. Saanich should look at dedicating a much larger sum of money to urban forestry issues.

Within the urban containment boundary there are still some agricultural lands. Saanich should consider purchasing these lands and returning them to a natural forest state. a 10 hectare farm property could provide as many trees as 3000 to 6000 private properties. A forest is a much higher and better use for the community and environment of all farm land in this region.
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