Toronto (June 7, 2007)- Toronto city council is being asked to spend $350,000 on a first-ever, comprehensive study of the city’s tree stock, looking at everything from tree varieties to pests to soil conditions. In an effort to battle climate change, improve air quality and beautify Canada’s biggest metropolis, city council has stated it wants to double the number of trees in Toronto over the coming decades.
A study done by the University of Toronto some 17 years ago suggested there were 7 million trees in the city. But city staff said they don’t know if that’s accurate and that they don’t know a lot of other things about the city’s trees, so the parks and environment committee voted to ask council for the new study.
Mayor David Miller has said he’d like to double the city’s tree canopy, or coverage, from its current 17.5 per cent by 2020. The director of urban forestry for the city, Richard Ubbens, told the Star earlier this year that achieving Miller’s goal might take 100 years, but yesterday told the committee that doubling the number of trees by 2050 “might be a reasonable target.” The city is planting perhaps 40,000 new trees a year, Ubbens said.
The department has an annual operating budget of $21 million and a capital budget for this year of $2.5 million. Ubbens is asking for a 50 per cent increase for next year, but it’s unclear if even that would be enough to allow the city to reach its targets.
Councillor and parks committee chair Paula Fletcher said the city likely would have to plant 200,000 trees a year to double its tree canopy by 2050, about five times what they’re planting now.
The city has asked developers to cover 40 per cent of residential gardens with trees or shrubs, but the policy is voluntary and committee members said it clearly isn’t working. City staff said the city doesn’t have the power to force developers to plant trees on private land, but Councillor Raymond Cho suggested it’s high time the city demanded action from the private sector.
Cho (Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River) said oil companies, for example, could put 1 per cent of their profits into programs to hand out trees to Torontonians. “They can’t say no,” Cho told committee members. “If the planet dies, it doesn’t matter if you’re the president of Shell or whatever, you’ll die, too.”
A photo passed around at the committee showed a new subdivision in the suburbs of Toronto, with a dozen or so houses cheek by jowl. The backyards weren’t much bigger than a sandbox. But what was especially notable was the lack of a single tree. The slide shows what councillors are up against in their fight for a greener city.
Councillor Michael Walker (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) said he wants to see a big budget hike for the forestry department next year. “The money they’re asking for is a spit in the ocean around here,” he said. “We waste a lot more than that on some of our political indulgences.”
Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) voted against the study, saying the city has the information it needs and that the $350,000 would be better spent planting trees.
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