With New Brunswick in the middle of a municipal election, there’s been a lot of talk about greening the capital city by planting trees. But Trees Matter Fredericton founder Kathryn Downton wants more. Downton wants the city to adopt a comprehensive urban forest plan.
According to Downton, an urban forest plan would protect historic and significant trees, and allocate funds towards green infrastructure needed to face climate change.
Downton is concerned by the lack of protection of old trees in Fredericton: “Someone can cut down a 200-year-old tree because they don’t like leaves on the lawn, and then move away six months later. There’s no way to protect important trees on private land. But in cities like Calgary, historic, rare or significant trees are protected by law, with plaques describing why they are protected and neighborhoods proudly claiming these trees as part of the value of living there. There are fines up to $10,000 for harming an identified tree.”
Old trees found in Fredericton’s Odell Park are becoming like zoos, according to Downton: “Having a solid progressive vision for urban nature is becoming critical because extensive cutting in rural areas means sometimes cities are the last places where you can see old growth forest like the stands of hemlocks at Odell or endangered trees like butternut.”
“If we learned one thing from that moment when we were all told to stay at home during the lockdown, it’s what incredible natural resources we have all around us,” said Downtown, “But we have little in the way of protecting what’s important to us.”
Downton began looking into what other cities have done after the loss of trees in Fredericton like the removal of the mature elms at Officer’s Square and cedar trees at Old Government House.
Established two years ago, Trees Matter Fredericton has been inspired by the successes of similar groups in Halifax, Québec, Peterborough and Nelson.
“I began talking to people from community groups across North America and they said that good policy was brought in when cities were challenged to think more deeply about what they want both public and private nature to look like in 10, 20, 50 years. It’s done through extensive and genuine community consultation, and in collaboration with local expertise, like academic forestry and environmental programs,” said Downton.
For Downton, “Community groups seem to be like the yeast to bread dough. We have a great school of forestry here. We have a good city parks department. But the Tree Commission has become a kind of elite staff advisory committee. They have wandered far from their routes. And responsibility for urban nature has become spread throughout various committees with no one responsible for an overall vision. All the ingredients are there but they are not working well together. We need the yeast to make the bread rise.”
Downton points to Halifax’s 10-year old urban forest plan as the kind of collaboration that should happen in Fredericton: “In Halifax, they are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the adoption of their urban forest plan. It resulted from a collaboration between city parks, Dalhousie University and the community. They identified priorities by neighborhood and dedicated significant budget to those priorities. They’ve planted thousands and thousands of trees each year. But more importantly, an Officer’s Square or a bulldozing of the important bird habitat couldn’t happen there because everyone is working off the same high level policy.”
Mitigating against the impacts of climate change is another motivation for Downton’s work to have the city adopt an urban forest plan: “Trees are the work horses of climate change mitigation, whether it’s slowing down flooding, cooling down summer temperatures when regulated around new developments, or filtering carbon. Saving every old tree is going to become more and more important as the years go by. And of course, we need to be planting trees.”
Downton is happy that all mayoral candidates have promised to plant trees. But she says, “what we really need is a commitment from council to sponsor the genuine consultations needed to bring in a top notch urban nature plan that will take us into the next decades. And the budget to go with it. That’s why Trees Matter Fredericton is here and what we will continue to work towards, and why we are looking forward to working with the new council on this.”
Data Brainanta is a permaculturalist-in-training who has an interest in politics.