Intersection redesign is an example of Urban Forestry Master Plan in action

A long awaited roundabout is going to mean the end of some long standing trees on the Halifax Common.Work is beginning this week on the conversion of the North Park and Cunard Street intersection into a roundabout and will causes significant changes to the surrounding area. Most noticeably this will involve reshaping the intersection into a traffic circle, including the use of some land that was formerly green space on the North Common. There are casualties in all great campaigns, and in this case it will be several old trees that have overlooked the Common for decades. But it’s not all bad news in this corner of Halifax, because the removal of those trees is guided by the Urban Forestry Master Plan (UFMP), which aims to ensure long-term sustainable development of the city’s treed habitats. The plan was approved by council in 2012. For this particular intersection, the UFMP recommended planting 124 new trees on the Common and the relocation of 30 others within that same property. The design was also guided by recommendations from the 1994 Halifax Common Plan, which suggested opening up scenic views of the Halifax Armoury and Citadel.John Simmonds, Urban Forester with the HRM, says this intersection redesign is an opportunity for the city to correct some past mistakes. “Many of the mature trees currently on the site are Norway maples – short-lived, invasive hardwoods which are prone to problems, such as weak limbs later in life,” Simmonds explained. “The intersection realignment gives us the opportunity to remove non-native trees that are already near the end of their natural lives, and replace them with native trees that are more suitable for planting in this area and come with a lower long-term cost.”Mr. Simmonds listed red maple, sugar maple, and white elm as some of the potential native candidates for the site.Bill Freedman, an ecologist at Dalhousie University, agrees that planting native trees comes with many benefits. “Native tree species are well-adapted to our particular climate and soil and are more likely to provide the right kind of habitat for native animals” he explained. But the fight against non-native trees isn’t just in the habitat in which they’re planted – they have the potential to escape cultivation and to wreak havoc in the wild. The damaging effects of invasive plants can be seen in species such as the Japanese knotweed, goutweed, purple loosestrife, oriental bittersweet and many more, all of which escaped cultivation. These invasive species out-compete native plants and cause problems for animals who depend on them for food and habitat. The city’s use of native trees is a major step forward and of vital importance to the UFMP’s goal of long-term ecological sustainability.This is only the first of many changes Haligonians should expect to see in urban forests in coming years, guided by the UFMP. For more information on the UFMP, visit their webpage.The overall theme of the plan is clear – the city needs to achieve more urban canopy in a strategic and ecologically sustainable manner. Pay attention to ecological conditions around the city and you will notice some of the positive changes that occur as our neighbourhoods become a little greener, one native tree at a time.   – David Foster