Ottawa’s Urban Forest Management Plan
The past several months have been an exciting time for Ottawa. On Tuesday, June 20th, City staff presented the final version of the Urban Forest Management Plan to council’s Environment and Climate Protection Committee. This plan, correctly implemented, will ensure Ottawa’s treescape is prioritized, protected, and properly managed.
We applaud the City for the initiative and commitment to developing an Urban Forest Management Plan. As we understand it, the “Urban Forest” refers to all trees within the urban boundary as defined in the Official Plan, whether they are on public, commercial, residential, or private lands. Ottawa’s forest cleans our air, improves the health of our residents, beautifies our communities, and overall improves our quality of life. The Urban Forest Management Plan needs have 100 year time horizon – the life-cycle of a long-lived tree. We are making 100 year investments and look to plant, nurture and protect our trees to live for 100 years. The life-expectancy of trees planted by the City of Ottawa should increase as a result of the actions coming out of the Plan.
The Plan, correctly applied, should:
- sustain and create a tree-canopy of large and tall trees. This means paying particular attention to protecting established trees that make up the current canopy
- create and sustain an urban forest that is diversified, healthy and resilient to the challenges of the urban environment, and able to withstand the challenges of climate change
- enable a community that is engaged, with a culture, knowledge and awareness that advocates for trees
- affirm laws that safeguard space for trees and protect trees, and the effective enforcement of these laws
- recommend best technical practices to guide the planting, nurturing and protection of trees and forest, drawing on experience not only in North America, but also in Europe and Japan, where there are examples of thriving centuries-old urban forests and successful institutional arrangements to safeguard and sustain these heritage trees
- think through and make recommendations relating to the institutions and internal urban planning and development processes relating to tree and urban forest outcomes in Ottawa, including Complete Streets, Infill policies and infrastructure life-cycle renewal projects.
- be ecologically grounded; looking to provide guidance in an ecosystem perspective, make recommendations for urban planning processes that protect and sustain healthy ecological spaces in the urban area, and take stock of storm water management, wetlands and wildlife relations
- provide an economic valuation rationale for budgetary outlays and investments in forestry and green infrastructure
Ecology Ottawa, as part of the Tree Task Force, was put to hard work developing eight key policy items for the Plan to have. The proposals were as follows:
1. Know What We Have
We need to know the current status of Ottawa’s Urban Forest to be able to set priorities for its management and demonstrate its value.
- a) Take a baseline inventory of the status, including risk assessment, of the existing urban forest in Ottawa on public, park and private land, including large/tall trees and trees of natural heritage value
- b) Establish baselines for measure(s) of the urban canopy and status quo life-expectancies of trees planted by forest services in different urban environments (parks, side street trees, main street trees, etc.)
- c) Perform an economic valuation of the benefits of Ottawa’s urban forest, including annual ecological and financial benefits to the City from fruits and nuts, wood, and wildlife habitat.
- d) Undertake a critical assessment of current urban development policies and practices driving the loss of the urban forest canopy
2. Create Clear Targets and Expected Outcomes
The plan must have clear, measurable, and realistic goals and expected results. This will allow future management corrective actions and improvements in the Plan. It will also create the conditions for the public to hold the City accountable on the success of the plan.
- a) Develop an urban forest monitoring program with a focused set of performance indicators with associated targets
- b) The urban area should have a target tree canopy cover of 30% as per the Official Plan, from which there should be no net loss in tree cover once achieved
- c) Fully integrate urban forest canopy targets into the City’s climate change plan
3. Engage and Educate the Public
The City should encourage public involvement and education, as our forest benefits all Ottawa’s residents, whether they own land with trees or not. Education, communication and public engagement is necessary to motivate and inform the public, as well as to generate a culture of long term appreciation of the urban forest and support for its maintenance and management.
- a) Involve the public in the plan’s development and implementation, including monitoring activities through a Citizen Science approach to data collection and analysis
- b) Increase public and private awareness of the ecological, commercial, economic, psychological, and health benefits of Ottawa’s urban forest and correct widespread misunderstandings about conflicts between trees, buildings and infrastructure.
4. Manage Trees over their Whole Lifetime
Too often, trees are planted and then ignored, and bylaws protecting existing trees are not enforced. Trees are a form of green infrastructure requiring maintenance just like other infrastructure.
- a) Adopt a ‘dust to dust’, ‘seed to old-growth’ or ‘life-cycle’ approach to trees and ensure that when trees are planted, they will be monitored and cared for over their whole lifetime and have adequate space for root and canopy development.
- b) Ensure that City trees have adequate budgets for maintenance costs.
5. Improve Resilience through Diversity
A lack of diversity leaves the forest vulnerable to climate change, diseases, and pests like the Emerald Ash Borer, and native species support local ecosystems.
- a) Plant native tree species and protect existing trees, to ensure that there is a diversity of ages and species of trees across neighborhoods and the city as a whole; and ensuring that there is no more than 5% of one tree species, 10% of one genus, and 20% of one family.
- b) Appropriately protect against invasive species (including through awareness raising)
- c) Divide the existing tree tender to promote the use of local tree seed sources and indigenous forest genetic diversity
- d) Plan for the long-term availability of a diversity of local supply for public and private buyers, using procurement tools and incentives such as longer term contracts and public-private partnerships as appropriate.
6. “Take Back the Streets” The City must create strong policy incentives to plant and preserve trees on the streetscape (private yards and City right of way)
- a) Create mandatory standards for underground growing space volumes to allow trees to share the subsurface with infrastructure
- b) Modify the Trees in Trust Program so that replacement of city trees is done automatically, and not only upon residents request, and replacing trees with trees of equal or greater stature in order to grow the canopy, and implementing this administrative change retroactively i.e. replacing the trees that have been lost and not replaced over the past decade.
- c) Ensure that viable street trees are part of infill development and complete streets policies.
7. Integrate the Urban Forest Management Plan within the City’s other Plans and Strategies
The City of Ottawa has many policies, programs. Initiatives and regulations related to trees but is lacking a comprehensive, long-term vision and strategic direction for protecting and enhancing the urban forest.
- a) Identify all the areas where management of the urban forest overlaps existing plans, policies, guidelines and strategies. Examples include the “Design with Nature” component of the Official Plan, the recognition of the urban forest as a key component of urban community character during the Infill I and II consultations, the measures adopted by Council on May 9, 2012, which if implemented, would aid in protecting, preserving and enhancing the urban forest, and the references to tree protection, preservation and enhancement in Design Guidelines.
8. Make Trees an Enforcement Priority
Trees have long been given low priority in municipal decision-making, and are treated as incidental to new construction, hydro, and infrastructure. Enforcement of tree-related by-laws must be improved to ensure that developers design and build to preserve existing trees whenever possible and create space for the growth of new trees. To do so,
- a) Require that tree information be disclosed on building permits so that Forestry Services can consider trees before, not after, the approval of building permits.
- b) Rapidly develop a site alteration by-law to avoid unnecessary loss of trees
- c) Require that every new subdivision have a care and nurturing plan for the trees to replace those removed during building, and that every homeowner be given a copy of the plan
The City needs to create momentum and demonstrate willingness to implement pro-active changes to urban development policies and practices that will better preserve and protect Ottawa’s Urban Forest.
Many of the above elements are immediately actionable and need not to wait for full completion of the Urban Forest Management Plan by City Council.
Below are the Tree Task Force reports following the numerous consultations held by the City:
November 2015: Input to Phase 1 Consultation
November 2016: Input to Phase 2 Consultation
The Urban Forest Management Plan
Below are the publicly released Urban Forest Management Plan, both draft and final versions:
September 2016: Draft Urban Forest Management Plan
April 2017: Final Urban Forest Management Plan
With the support of thousands of people – over 11,000 of whom signed our urban forest plan petition – Ecology Ottawa called on City officials to develop a strong, updated and publicly accessible Urban Forest Management Plan. The final version of the Urban Forest Management Plan was presented by City Staff on June 20, 2017, at the council’s Environment and Climate Protection Committee. The plan was successfully passed to City Council and approved on June 28th, 2017. This marks the tail end of a long process, and the conclusion to this story is a happy one thanks to the tireless work of so many community groups and concerned residents.
Though this is a huge step forward, we know that a good plan is only half the battle. Ecology Ottawa will continue to work with the City and other community groups over the coming years to ensure that the good intentions outlined in the Urban Forest Management Plan are carried out. One of the possible challenges is ensuring that staff resources remain in place to carry out the plan over the long term.
We would like to thank various people for their hard work on this initiative. Our thanks are extended to all of Ecology Ottawa’s Tree Task Force members. Their work was crucial to the analysis and policy proposals for the draft plan. We would also like to recognize the hours of work put in by our community outreach volunteers throughout the years of this initiative. These individuals were imperative to spread awareness and garner support for the Urban Forest Management Plan. And, most importantly, we would like to thank the citizens of Ottawa for standing up and voicing their concerns for our trees. Your help is invaluable to helping preserve the health of Ottawa’s trees!