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UFMP History


In 2001, HRM Regional Council passed a motion proposed by Councillor Linda Mosher to develop a management plan for urban forests. This initiative was integrated with Council’s development of a long-range regional development plan that commenced in the fall of 2001.

In 2006, Regional Council adopted Policy E-20 contained in the HRM Regional Municipal Planning Strategy (RMPS). The policy states: “HRM shall prepare an Urban Forest Functional Plan to identify design guidelines and a management strategy tomaximize the urban forest.” (HRM, 2006).

The HRM Urban Forest Master Plan will:

  • Establish the values, objectives, indicators, targets and management actions necessary for the sustainability of the urban forest.
  • Identify urban forest issues and opportunities for their resolution.
  • Adopt changes to funding allocations, regulations, policies, by-laws and processes for managing the urban forest.
  • Raise public awareness of the importance of trees to the City and its citizens.

Community Engagement Notice - Fall 2011

HRM and Dalhousie University have developed the first draft of the Urban Forest Master Plan (UFMP) to ensure a sustainable future for our urban forest. The Plan will provide a way forward for the stewardship of trees in the urban forest. The draft UFMP will be ready for review by the end of October 2011. We need citizens to take an active role in protecting and enhancing our urban forest for the health of our community, so get involved with the UFMP! Those interested in taking part in an upcoming stakeholder focus group meeting can find out more at this UFMP Stakeholder Meeting link.

Community Engagement Report - 2010

1. Introduction

During summer 2010, as part of the activities associated with development of HRM’s Urban Forest Master Plan (UFMP), several community engagement events were held. The primary purpose of the events was information-sharing and consultation. Feedback from the consultations will be used to inform preparation of the draft UFMP. General issues with the urban forest have been the primary focus area, although topics such as biodiversity, environmental education opportunities, and the contribution of urban trees to a sense of well-being were also discussed.

In summary, community engagement activities for the UFMP included two advertisements in The Coast, three focus groups, three urban forest walkabouts, and an open house. All activities were designed and led by us. Over the course of the summer, the UFMP team also had an urban forest information line and email address that acted as the primary means for contact with the public. We experienced high interest from a select group of people who participated in most of our events and received positive feedback following each event. Overall, we judge the public interest in the UFMP to have been satisfactory. However, participation was low at some events, likely due to summer vacations.

2. The Community Engagement Activities

2.1 Media Campaign

The first step in our community engagement program was a media campaign that included a newsletter and advertisement in The Coast, a radio spot on CBC Radio 1, a number of research posters for the open house, a press release, and a website. Generally, all of our advertisements were well received and resulted in increased public interest in the UFMP. Following the first newsletter, we were contacted by a number of individuals interested in learning more about the UFMP and had participants in every event throughout the summer referencing it.

On August 17, Peter Duinker was interviewed on CBC Radio 1, which resulted in a number of people attending the urban forest walkabouts and open house. Finally, the research posters created for the open house were well received and sparked interesting conversation within the crowd. Overall the media campaign was successful and we got coverage from CBC Radio, The

Coast, the DAL Gazette, and the Halifax Gazette. During 2011, we will develop four questions for the Halifax Metro-Quarterly questionnaire and will advertise in the Naturally Green newsletter.

2.2 Initial Scanning Focus Group

On July 27, the UFMP team held an initial scanning focus group to gain public opinion on the UFMP’s framework for values, objectives, indicators and targets (VOIT). The meeting was facilitated by Peter Duinker, and 29 individuals from industry, government and academia attended. We were very pleased with the attendance at this session and had a balanced representation of professional sectors. Discussion centred around the values outlined in VOIT and participants were asked to identify their top three values prior to the focus group.

Based on participant responses, we discovered that two most-common values were (a) sense of wellbeing, and (b) native biodiversity. Sense of wellbeing was a focal area of discussion over the two-hour event. Participants commented that trees contribute to a sense of wellbeing in a number of ways ranging from psychological factors to providing a sense of place. Overall it was thought that street trees contribute disproportionately high to citizens’ sense of wellbeing.

On the matter of biodiversity and the role of native species in HRM’s urban forest, most participants supported planting native species. Some individuals held strong views about planting only native stock. Within this discussion, there were concerns about replacement plans for older trees, the role of historic trees (especially those that are non-native), and the biodiversity qualities HRM should strive for within its urban forest.

There was also discussion about the legal rights of private landowners and the municipality, and the identification of major barriers to development of a healthy urban forest. One area of major concern was the communication disconnect with land developers. Participants took the stance that trees must be taken into account prior to the development of subdivisions, as this will increase the age and species diversity of trees within an area.

The UFMP team gained a lot of useful feedback from participants. The focus group highlighted the primary values of public concern and provided direction for the development of subsequent focus groups. Feedback from participants was satisfactory and will be considered when creating the UFMP.

2.3 Urban Forest Walkabouts

On August 17, the UFMP team hosted three guided tours of a small section of HRM’s urban forest near Dalhousie University. During the walkabouts, citizens engaged in an active learning session focused on the urban forest. Over the two-hour walkabout, citizens were shown a range of challenges faced by the urban forest, and some of the benefits it provides. HRM Urban Forester John Simmons joined Dalhousie University’s Peter Duinker and his research team to guide the walkabouts and discuss issues prompted by the specific elements of the urban forest visited by the groups.

Discussion was wide-ranging and touched on concerns about the spacing between street trees, the effect of installing lights on trees, the role of species diversity, previous urban forest management practices, and regulations and guidelines for arborists. Overall, the walkabouts provided a range of information to participants and provoked interest in forming a volunteer program associated with the urban forest.

2.4 Open House

On August 18, the UFMP team hosted an open house in room 5001 of the Rowe building on the Dalhousie campus. The open house was designed as a meeting for sharing information and expressing opinions on HRM’s urban forest and was open to all members of the public. Twenty participants attended the open house where they actively engaged in discussion based a series of posters prepared by the team. The posters included two maps of the UFMP study area, two posters outlining the major challenges facing HRM’s urban forest, and one poster each discussing the benefits of the urban forest, the VOIT framework, and the results from the Stratum and UFORE analyses of HRM urban forest.

During the open house, Peter Duinker gave a presentation on the UFMP and HRM’s urban forest which spurred a lot of discussion similar to that of the July focus group (see Appendix 4). Again, one area of concern was native tree species, biodiversity, and what types of planting plans will be developed. Other question areas included the management of large stands within the UF study area, issues with stormwater runoff, and the meaning of the Stratum and UFORE results. Although there was a small turnout to the open house, it was well received and considered a success.

2.5 Focus Group on Native Species and Biodiversity

Four citizens joined our focus group on August 25 . All four considered climate change to be a significant issue that must be considered in light of strong desires for native species and biodiversity. Instead of taking a hard line for native species, the group felt strongly that the right species/cultivars should be planted in each site to ensure tree health and survival. Careful choice of non-native species is permissible.

Another concern was the need for more shrubbery in the city. Participants held the view that in instances where trees will not succeed, shrubs often can. One participant introduced the concept of adjustive management, “which reflects both the uncertainty and the likely evolution of the moral values humans attribute to biodiversity” (Maris & Béchet, 2009*). Participants felt that HRM should consider adopting an adjustive management scheme within the UFMP. By greening the city, we will be doing more for carbon sequestration, which is a growing concern for the public.

* MARIS, V. and BÉCHET, A. (2010), From Adaptive Management to Adjustive Management: A Pragmatic Account of Biodiversity Values. Conservation Biology, 24: 966–973. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01437.x

2.6 Focus Group on Sense of Well-Being and Environmental Education Opportunities

We held our final focus group on August 26 to address issues related to sense of wellbeing and environmental education. Eight participants attended. In general, it was concluded that trees are a major source of the sense of wellbeing within communities, but it may be subconscious to many citizens. To ensure that HRM sustains its urban forest, there should be more active volunteer opportunities for citizens to become involved. The concept of a neighbourhood forest stewards program was brought up, where citizens could directly participate with and care for the urban forest. It is important to get champions of the urban forest in HRM because we need citizens to gain a sense of ownership over the city trees in order to promote sustainability. Various ideas on further public participation were discussed along with school plantings and volunteer-led training for city workers to decrease maltreatment of city trees.

3. Main Themes Arising from the Consultations

Here we present a collation of some of the main themes - 25 in all - we heard about from participants at our various events. The order of themes below is more or less random and does not indicate any sense of relative priority.

3.1 Definition of Urban Forest

A common question throughout the public engagement sessions was centred on the definition of urban forest. As will be outlined in the UFMP, our definition of the urban forest includes all of the public and private trees in the HRM urban core. This includes trees in parks, such as Point Pleasant, trees between the sidewalks and roads, and trees in citizens’ yards.

3.2 Sense of Wellbeing and Sense of Place

One of the overarching themes of the engagement sessions was the importance of trees on citizen’s sense of wellbeing and place. Citizens discussed the importance of trees in providing shade, comfortable areas to walk, a visual way to connect to nature and the seasons, and a physical reminder of place. Participants believe that the psychological benefits of urban trees are the most important although it may be at a subconscious level for many citizens.

3.3 Education

The public feels that education about the importance of the urban forest needs to be increased across the spectrum. In schools, children need to be educated on the benefits of trees and take part in planting and caring for them. Tree-nursery owners need to be educated on the importance of growing native and city-resilient species, and should promote planting of more trees on private property. Land developers need to be educated on how to protect and sustain tree populations while undertaking development operations. Finally, participants discussed the importance of educating the general public and increasing awareness and stewardship of HRM’s urban forest.

3.4 Tree replacement policy, density

There was confusion about how HRM deals with tree replacement when a sick or dead tree needs to be removed. Questions included: What species should be replanted? How far apart from each other should new trees be planted? Who is responsible for replacing and caring for street trees? If an historical tree is removed that is not a native species, should it be replaced by a tree of native species or the species that was previously there to retain the historical importance? What type of age diversity will be considered? The UFMP needs to address all these kinds of questions.

3.5 Biodiversity

The role and importance of biodiversity within the urban forest was discussed in a number of ways. Participants considered the role of native vs. non-native species in terms of both a diverse and resilient urban forest. Participants concluded that although native species are preferred, HRM needs to plant species suited to the conditions of each site so as to maintain or increase the sustainability of the urban forest. Other topics discussed in connection with biodiversity were varying the gene pool of species bought from nurseries, how we can incorporate more shrubs in the urban forest, and the concept of species richness and evenness throughout the urban forest as well as in specific stands.

3.6 Riparian Setbacks

Trees are essential to the maintenance of healthy riparian habitat in Nova Scotia. It is important to protect sufficient trees when developing in riparian habitats.

3.7 By-laws

Participants discussed various ways that HRM might be able to control or direct people’s behaviours around the city to conserve trees. A strong tree bylaw was considered essential for securing a sustainable urban forest. Issues to be included in bylaw revisions include possible permissions for landowners to cut down living trees on their properties, and the rights of landowners to direct sunshine on their properties (i.e., freedom from tree shade).

3.8 Tree Maintenance

HRM is responsible for maintaining trees on lands it owns (e.g., city parks, boulevards, tree lawns next to streets). It is not the responsibility of citizens to take action to correct problem situations with trees that HRM owns. HRM should be called to take action. The responsibility to maintain a tree falls to whomever owns the land where the tree is growing. This includes homeowners.

3.9 Funding

Participants recognized that funding for HRM’s urban-forest program is too low. Given the current budget allocation and the high cost of planting appropriate trees in public places such as along streets, HRM is losing more of its municipally owned trees each year than it is replacing. This highlights the importance of citizens taking action into their own hands by planting more trees on their own properties.

3.10 Greenways and Forest Patches

For many people, green belts and forest patches, where tree cover is high, are the core of the urban forest. These areas are important to manage well for wildlife habitat, biodiversity conservation, recreation, and many other benefits of tree canopy cover.

3.11 Citizen Engagement

Citizens can become involved with the urban forest in many ways. It is important for HRM to encourage this and provide avenues for doing so in both active and passive approaches. Participants were in support of increasing urban forest education through hands-on-learning, such as tree planting programs and urban forest walkabouts, and through passive learning by posting tree information placards, and increasing the availability of information on the benefits and challenges of the urban forest.

3.12 Trees as Green Infrastructure

Given the many ways in which urban trees physically improve the environment - air-quality improvement, storm-water control, temperature and wind amelioration, to name a few - it behoves city planners and developers to view trees as green infrastructure and use them more often to provide services that would, in the absence of trees, either not be provided or would require expensive engineering works to provide.

3.13 Links to the Provincial Government

The Government of Nova Scotia owns considerable amounts of land in HRM, even in the urban core. To sustain the entire HRM urban forest, it is important to cooperate with the Government of Nova Scotia, particularly in relation to parks and protected areas in the urban core (e.g., Long Lake Provincial Park).

3.14 Ecological Services

The urban forest provides many ecological services to the city and its citizens. These include, among other things, slowing down and retaining stormwater, providing shade, and sequestering carbon from the air. It is important for the UFMP to address these issues and ensure that the urban forest plays as strong a role as it can in continuing to provide ecological services consistently across the urban core. It is also important for citizens to become aware of and understand these ecological services.

3.15 Industrial and Commercial Zones

Industrial and commercial zones - e.g. Bayer’s Lake Commercial Park, Burnside Industrial Park, Dartmouth Crossing - are major problem areas in relation to HRM’s urban forest. Vast areas of land have been cleared of all the trees and built up with buildings, roads and parking lots, all impervious hard surfaces. Strategically placed trees in these built-up areas could provide huge benefits economically, environmentally and socially.

3.16 Metal Hardware in Trees

Many people, including citizens but also people working for businesses and the city itself, see trees as handy posts from which to hang things. In yards, clotheslines and treehouses often result in metal fasteners becoming embedded in the wood. In the streets, trees often are used as anchors for utility poles and as carriers for street signs. In some places in the city - e.g., the Grand Parade - trees are used to support decorative lighting equipment. While such uses of trees may not affect their health, they certainly reduce the utility of the wood once a sick or dead tree needs to be removed. Whereas a tree devoid of metal objects inside it can be used for lumber, firewood or chips, a city tree that may have metal objects embedded in the wood has no use whatsoever and usually needs to be dumped somewhere.

3.17 Fire

Forest fire is an increasing concern of HRM citizens in HRM, especially after the Porters Lake fire of 2007 and the Spryfield fire of 2009. This concern is based on the greenways and forest patches within and surrounding HRM, as they can bring fire close to subdivisions. The UFMP needs to have special considerations for the managment of these and other fire-prone lands in HRM.

3.18 Clearcutting Prior to Development

A major problem with development of forest land at the periphery of the urban core is that developers often clearcut the land and then replant trees sparsely around the new buildings and roadways. Much stronger consideration is needed on retention of forest green belts and patches in new developments.

3.19 The Underground Environment

Trees depend on the soil for nutrients and anchorage. Urban environments present many challenges for trees to be able to develop sufficient rooting systems for a long and healthy life. In areas disturbed by development, we now know how to build tree-friendly planting environments. While these are expensive, they are essential for confident tree establishment. The UFMP must address the need for improving tree-rooting habitats in disturbed sites.

Underground placement of utility infrastructure such as pipes and cables can be a major challenge to the urban forest. Care and intelligent design and installation, with recognition of the dynamics of tree-root development, can reduce conflicts for both trees and built infrastructure.

3.20 Long-term Planning

Trees have life spans ranging from a few years (young trees frequently die due to the harsh growing conditions in urban settings) up to a century or two. People need to consider the long-term future when decisions are made about where to put which trees in the urban environment. For example, one would want to guard against a situation where all the trees on a street are old, with no young ones already underway to form the new canopy once the old trees succumb and die. A balanced age-class structure, on a fine spatial scale, is important for urban-canopy continuity over the long term. That is why the UFMP will take a long-term view to managing the urban forest.

3.21 Wildlife

Wild animals in the city are, depending on the species, at times welcome and at times shunned. For example, coyotes and racoons are generally unwelcome, but diverse songbirds bring positive reactions from urban citizens. Most of the welcome birds and other small animals are only present because of the urban forest. Judicious management of all aspects of the urban forest can foster the positive aspects of urban wildlife while minimizing the negative side of nuisance wildlife.

3.22 Heritage Trees

Heritage trees are particularly important individuals by virtue primarily of their age and often also because of their large size. Participants at our consultations said that heritage trees provide a sense of place for HRM citizens. Whether of native or non-native species, the UFMP must address the conservation of heritage trees and indeed make provisions for new heritage trees to flourish across the urban landscape.

3.23 Climate Change

Most people accept that the globe’s climate is changing. In HRM, this probably means a significant warming trend over the 21st century. The UFMP must consider the diverse effects of climate change on the urban forest, both on the extant trees and those to be planted during the next decades. This may mean that native species may not always be the best choice for urban plantings, depending on their resilience and adaptability.

3.24 Invasive Alien Species

Invasive alien species are those from other areas that become established in NS and spread to the detriment of native species. In HRM’s urban forest, the Norway maple is a prime example among tree species of an invasive alien species. The UFMP will need to address the invasiveness of any non-native tree species planted. It must also address the issue of non-tree invasive alien species, of which there are several categories: diseases brought to NS unwittingly on non-native plant materials (e.g., the beech bark disease); ornamental species brought to NS for landscape beautification (e.g., Japanese knotweed); and species brought here by accident as a result of trade in manufactured goods (e.g., the brown spruce long-horned beetle). Travelling citizens and trading businesses must be compelled to be vigilant against importation of alien species to NS except under highly regulated circumstances.

3.25 Safety

Some participants brought up the issue of safety in connection with the urban forest. Safetyrelates to urban trees in several ways. First, it is well known by now that urban trees help reduce crime. Second, urban trees (and shrubs) need to be managed in such a way as to help people feel safe walking at night. This may mean simple things like keeping the tree crowns up from the trunk by several metres. Finally, people are rightly concerned about branches or entire treees falling onto themselves or their properties, especially during windy conditions. We just need to recall how Hurricane Juan was responsible for tree damage to many buildings in the HRM, and even some cars were crushed by toppled trees. The UFMP will need to address all aspects of safety in relation to trees in the city.

4. Conclusions

In the public engagement program we have implemented so far in relation to the HRM UFMP,we attempted to meet the requirements of HRM’s Community Engagement Strategy by following the ten principles of community engagement. During summer 2010, the UFMP team has hosted seven successful community engagement events. Feedback from participants has been positive and a number of citizens have requested updates on the UFMP during its development. In all of the events, the social value of the urban forest was discussed most frequently. This can be attributed to citizens’ assessment of the importance of trees and the urban forest with their sense of wellbeing.

Considering our plans as developed in 2010, several community engagement initiatives are still needed in 2011. These include advertising in the Naturally Green Newsletter, developing a second information item for The Coast (on the progression of the plan and CE events of thesummer), questions in HRM’s metro-quarterly, street interception surveys, an open house, and potentially a workshop. We know of a cadre of citizens following the development of the UFMP who are interested in participating in more events.

Based on our conversations with participants, it is clear that some Haligonians at least have a strong interest in protecting and sustaining their urban forest. There is potential to develop a volunteer-based neighbourhood forest-stewardship program that could be fostered in the UFMP. HRM needs to increase the number of urban forest public participation programs within the region to ensure citizens are informed about and conscious of the urban forest.

Jen Ross and Peter Duinker

School for Resource and Environmental Studies

Dalhousie University

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

B3H 3J5

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