Ben Henderson
Our Urban Forest

Protecting Edmonton's urban forest


During these splendid days of summer, we all come to appreciate the natural beauty of the trees lining Edmonton's streets and parks. Whether you are a neighbourhood stroller, shade-seeker or River Valley explorer, these leafy canopies are a source of contentment and pride.

And it's easy to see that Edmontonians do, in fact, place great value in our trees. Recently, when a proposal to remove a large number of the elm trees from the boulevard on Whyte Avenue was made known, many citizens raised their voices in protest, arguing that the boulevard elms are essential to the landscape and identity of our city.

I very much agreed and I worked with the city's Department of Forestry so that as many of the elms as possible could be saved.

The results were good -20 trees will be removed instead of the original proposal of 70.

The problems faced by the Department of Forestry--and by urban forests themselves-- are many.

Elm trees face a particular problem in the form of Dutch elm disease. But overall, there are many critical issues to deal with -such as poor soil quality, water management, pollution, heat, and scarcity of land.

Nevertheless, I know I am not alone in seeing our trees as central to our urban ecology. Trees are a vital resource, a lifeblood, in fact, for all sorts of flora and fauna, and they provide both wind protection in winter (the conifers) and act as heat shields in the summer and their effects on greenhouse gases.

The city must invest more in protecting them.

The other issue I sense may be appearing on our civic horizon is the protection of urban trees on private property from being harmed or cut down.

Concerning the trees on city land, the Forestry Department is guided by its tree management policy, which requires that Forestry set up guidelines to ensure that city trees are not unnecessarily harmed or destroyed.

But what about trees on citizens' own property? Are there regulations to which concerned citizens can turn to protect these trees? Over the past couple of decades, many other municipalities have developed policies and bylaws that restrict the actions property owners can take.

If a tree is of a certain age and value (judged by tree diameter), owners cannot harm them without first obtaining a permit from the city.

I am interested to know what citizens feel about this issue. Clearly mature trees are a critically important part of our mature neighbourhoods. I am interested in your thoughts on the possibility of a bylaw to protect them. Do you see this as a beneficial and reasonable use of city resources?