Oak Bay embarks on urban forest strategy

Public input will help the district develop a strategy regarding Oak Bay's trees

The conversation is just beginning but it’s hoped that within a year, Oak Bay will have an Urban Forest Strategy.

About 90 people turned out for last week’s Urban Forest Symposium, hosted by Oak Bay Parks and Recreation, Habitat Acquisition Trust and Friends of Uplands Park at Windsor Pavilion, said Chris Hyde-Lay, Oak Bay’s manager of Park Services.

“What will come from it is an urban forest strategy which we’re starting to work on,” Hyde-Lay said following the meeting.

A request for proposals has just closed and once that is awarded, the district will engage residents and others for input into the strategy, which it’s hoped will be completed within about a year, he said.

While the conversation has just started, Hyde-Lay expects a “pretty robust public consultation” process.

Last week’s session focused on the work of Adam Taylor, executive director of Habitat Acquisition Trust, which looked at challenges throughout the region with respect to canopy loss. Through the Urban Forest Stewardship Initiative, HAT completed land cover mapping of Greater Victoria that showed significant tree loss between 2005 and 2011.

Among the speakers on hand for the event were Taylor, Ron Carter, certified arborist, educator and professional tree and landscape consultant, Matt Fairbarns, regional biologist, and Jill Robinson, HAT stewardship co-ordinator. Topics included how trees benefit the community, property values and how landowners can support the urban forest, the state of the region’s urban forest, and natural areas and how they relate to urban forests.

Here in Oak Bay, “right now we still have a pretty good percentage of a good, healthy urban forest,” Hyde-Lay said.

However, the community’s trees are under pressure from their urban setting and age, as well as development, he said. “Being a tree and living in an urban area is tough,” he added.

Oak Bay’s tree preservation bylaw, which was last amended about five years ago, protects trees over 60 centimetres in diameter, in addition to trees like Garry oak and arbutus at a smaller diametre, Hyde-Lay said. Oak Bay tracks protected trees removed, and many of those mature examples are experiencing issues such as root rot or are architecturally unsound.

“We hold our own on public land so where a tree is removed, it’s also replaced,” he said, but noted that replacing a mature tree with a young tree doesn’t yield the same benefits for many years.

Greater loss is being seen on private property, and HAT has been striving to get the message out about the importance of trees to the local environment.

Those in the community can also request a tree be added to the boulevard, for example, and if the site is appropriate and the money is in the budget, Oak Bay can do that, Hyde-Lay said.

“I will say this about trees, people are beginning to look at them as a piece of green infrastructure because of the tremendous impact they give back,” he said, adding, “They’re the one piece of infrastructure that improves with age.”

 

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