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What are threats that impact urban trees?
Urban trees are trees that are located in settlement areas. There are many different and similar challenges these trees face in comparison to those in natural forests. There are two overarching threats to urban trees:
How do the urban environmental conditions impact urban trees?
The environment in natural settings is much different than that of urban ones. The threats posed to trees in settlement areas are heightened, including:
Invasive species, such as the Emerald Ash Borer, can weaken and/or kill urban trees en masse;
Urban environments are hotter and fluctuate more than in rural forests. Those fluctuations, urban heat waves, and droughts result in less conducive growing conditions;
Urban soils may be poor due to chemical contamination, such as road salt, too much fertilizer, and herbicides; and,
The effect of climate change, including the effects of extreme weather events, are most acutely experienced in urban environments.
What man-made threats exist for urban trees?
Urban trees that grow with us are affected by the everyday actions we take and the things we build. These threats include:
Development can cause urban forests to become fragmented which diminishes their rate of growth, biodiversity, and ecological function potential;
Materials used in infrastructure can cause an increased soil pH and affect soil quality;
Underground pipes, buildings, and roads all cause urban trees diminish the amount of potential growing space underground for roots;
Intensive urbanization can cause accelerated erosion of valleys, streams, and forest soils due to increased runoff; and,
Damaged trees as a result of people harmfully using urban forests. Uses like campfires, motorized vehicles, and walking in protected areas alters the forests and transports new invasive species.
These factors result in stunted growth and fewer trees reaching maturity.
What can residents do to mitigate these threats on their property?
Plant trees in open areas with enough space between the tree and any structures;
Wait at least 24 months between pruning trees;
Never remove more than 10%-20% of the trees crown when pruning;
To limit negative salt, fertilizer, and spray impacts, consider how much product is absolutely necessary.
Avoid chemical methods of removing trees; and,
Attempt to disturb the natural environment around urban trees as little as possible when enjoying the Town’s parks and forests.
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As part of the UFMP initiative, Staff will be providing periodic updates containing information around issues facing the urban forest. The first of this series is "Introduction to Urban Forests," containing an overview of key information on the topic of our settlement area trees and forest areas.
What is an urban forest?
An urban forest is the area within a settlement with trees and understorey plants, and includes the soils that sustain them. Urban forests include both private and publicly owned trees, including trees in our yards, streets, parks, infrastructure and natural areas of protected forest.
What are the benefits of urban forests?
Urban forests provide numerous ecological, economic, public health, cultural, and social benefits. Many residents are aware of some benefits like improved air quality, providing shade and cooling, and aesthetic value. Other benefits of urban forests are more surprising, such as:
- providing opportunities for children to learn about ecological systems within our stormwater facilities and parks;
- the mental health benefits observed in people visiting forested areas;
- the economic benefits associated with improved stormwater management facilities - found to be millions of dollars per year in saved costs in some municipalities; and,
- the importance of street trees in making public spaces and sidewalks safer and more comfortable for our most vulnerable, specifically children and seniors.
Stay tuned in upcoming news updates and engagement opportunities for more information on the benefits of urban forests.
How does the Town currently support the urban forest?
The Town supports our urban forests at three main touchpoints:
- Development: The application of Town by-laws, standards, and policies ensure that development proposals avoid removing trees where possible, replace trees, and plant and maintain to ensure survival of new stock.
- Operations and Maintenance: Our Operations staff both proactively maintain and replace injured trees and respond to resident complaints about Town-owned trees. Currently, the replacement of dying ash trees is a major focus.
- Capital Projects: New civic projects including infrastructure and parks contain new trees. Our designers recognize the importance of trees in public spaces and seek out new opportunities to expand the urban forest in every project.
What responsibilities do residents currently have to take care of their trees?
Regulations for tree removal vary across the Township, depending on location, reasons for removal, and characteristics of the property.
Property owners of land greater than 1 Ha are responsible for reaching out to the County of Simcoe for permission under their County Forest Conservation By-law. Most trees in the urban forest are not found on lots of more than 1 Ha.
Development applicants may be subject to tree protection or replacement provisions. Applicants seeking Site Plan Control, Shoreline Permits, or major development approvals are required to avoid tree removal where possible and replace trees according to Town standards.
The Town will also use external works agreements, agreements allowing disruption to Town owned lands by private land owners, to accommodate changes to infrastructure like driveways, sewer and stormwater connections, and grading. When those disruptions result in the loss of street trees, the Town requires compensatory replacement.
What should we be looking forward to next?
Staff will be going to Town Council on XXX XX, 2021 to present the study and engagement strategy as well some survey results and early study findings. With their direction, Staff will be proceeding with additional study and resident engagement.
Stay tuned for the next UFMP Information Bulletin, where we will be sharing information on how our urban forests continue to be threatened.