Tuesday, October 11, 2016
[Halifax, NS] – With the municipal election looming in HRM, candidates for council and mayor are extolling the importance of trees in the city.
A questionnaire distributed by Halifax Diverse, a program of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, asked candidates about the importance they place on trees in urban environments, and how they plan to be urban forest stewards if elected. Receiving 27 responses from a total of 56 candidates, program coordinator David Foster is thrilled that it seems respondents understand the benefits of trees and hopes this will translate into supportive policies from City Hall.
“Halifax Diverse has been engaged in urban forest stewardship for four years now and we have seen first-hand how much residents of HRM care about trees and green infrastructure,” David says. “I’m glad to see that these attitudes are reflected in candidates for the municipal election, and hope that this will stimulate policies that support urban forest preservation and enhancement.”
Candidates praised trees for beautifying and making communities more livable, and specific health benefits derived from trees such as air purification and shade that reduces exposure to harmful UV rays. However, most respondents indicated that more needs to be done at the municipal level to protect this vital resource.
Municipal efforts on this front are guided by the 2012 council-adopted Urban Forest Master Plan, co-written by HRM planners and academics from Dalhousie University’s School for Resource & Environmental Studies, led by Dr. Peter Duinker. He argues that while the plan lays the framework for successful management, sufficient resources, and supportive policies are essential to realizing this vision.
”Since the plan was approved by Council, implementation has progressed nicely,” says Duinker, “but the energy to implement must be increased to meet the plan’s targets. There is little by way of instant gratification in the tree-growing business – it takes decades to grow a big tree, so the time to ramp up planting is now. We are grateful to the current Council for supporting implementation efforts, and implore the new Council to endorse continuously increasing resources for the trees in our city.”
HRM’s future might look greener if many of the survey’s respondents take office after October 15th. Several candidates express the need for more resources to support tree planting and care, public education, and supporting partnerships with the community.
The municipality’s next Council will also be faced with implementing the results of the long awaited Centre Plan exercise. According to Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Programs Director for the Sierra Club Canada Foundation, there is some concern whether this plan will effectively complement or conflict with the existing urban forest master plan. “There is no need to sacrifice our green spaces as we move to make our city sustainable,” says Ms. Fitzgerald, “ It is important we consider substantial benefit that a healthy urban forest has on city life.”
Dr. Duinker hopes that candidates in the upcoming election are prepared to stand behind their responses to the Sierra Club’s questionnaire. “A healthy, liveable urban centre relies on an urban forest that is adequately planned-for and capably managed,” he says. Duinker implores policy-makers that “trees cannot be an afterthought in urban landscapes – they must be planned-for from the start, especially in intensely developed areas like the urban centre.”
Whether candidates’ pro-tree views translate into support for a sustainable urban forest will be seen in the months following the election. This support is essential for increasing resources available to urban forest managers to plant trees in areas with historically low canopy, manage existing trees, and keep up with replacing trees that die from a range of stresses. Specifically, more money is required to continue to build the annual planting program and to ensure sufficient staff resources are allocated to managing the program’s growth.
For more information, please contact:
Halifax Diverse Program Coordinator
Sierra Club Canada Foundation