Port Moody has officially adopted a plan to maintain and even grow its already healthy canopy over the next three decades.
On Tuesday, Sept. 12, following three years of work by staff and consultants, council unanimously approved its Urban Forest Management Strategy.
The document will guide the city’s long-term planning regarding the protection of trees on both private and public lands, as well as inform future official community plan (OCP) updates.
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The city has set a target to increase canopy cover from 28 to 31 percent in urban areas outside of parks and industrial lands, while growing its city-wide canopy cover by one percent to 59 percent.
“We think this projection to 2050 is one that is realistic, but we would then anticipate that canopy cover should continue to increase beyond this target as long as development pressure doesn’t exceed our removal expectations,” said Amelia Needoba, urban forestry specialist with Diamond Head Consultants.
A draft of the strategy first came before council in spring, with data showing that the status quo management practices will result in a loss of 124 acres of shade by 2050.
The report recommended the city triple the amount of trees it is currently planting annually in order to maintain its canopy.
Currently, around 350 trees are being planted each year, which would result in a gradual decline of two percent coverage citywide and a four percent loss in urban areas by 2050.
The new strategy endorsed by council would see 1,100 trees planted annually, focusing on areas around single-family and institutional-zoned areas and roadways.
Mayor Meghan Lahti said it would be helpful if the city publicized the number of trees planted annually.
“That really brings the public in on terms of actually understanding the magnitude of the job that we have in front of us,” Lahti said.
Port Moody’s current canopy coverage is one of the best in the Lower Mainland, and its residents want to keep it that way, according to public engagement summaries.
Coun. Diana Dilworth noted many residents participating in two public surveys “bought in” and actually desired to see higher levels of planting than what is recommended.
In fact, 30 percent support the strategy’s targets while 55 percent wanted to increase the canopy cover.
Maintaining a healthy canopy has numerous benefits for residents, habitats and ecosystems, according to research.
A proactive management strategy was necessary in order to address challenges from urbanization and development, declining forest health, biodiversity and the impacts of climate change, according to the plan.
The city’s current tree replacement bylaw has a two-to-one replacement ratio for new developments. However, the bylaw does not account for natural die off and hazard trees, nor tree removal on private property when no development application has been submitted.
A new tree bylaw is being currently developed by the city in parallel to this plan.
“There’s an opportunity there to have some requirements to ensure that we are improving the replacements, either sizes or maturity of trees,” Needoba said. “Larger trees are actually often more difficult to establish and have survive, and so there’s a balance to be had in terms of planting.”
Densification is causing shady spots to shift from private land to public land due to limited space on development sites, and younger replacement trees provide less canopy coverage.
Oftentimes construction will remove not only trees but also the large amounts of soil, reducing the number of potential plantable areas.
Port Moody’s zoning policies need to establish specific spaces for tree planting on public lands to support areas that are densifying, according to the strategy.
The plan also includes more tree protection and replacement requirements for developers, as well as increased community stewardship in natural areas and other partnership programs.
To offset the anticipated loss over the next 30 years, new investments will be required for tree planting on both public and private lands, development regulations need to be updated, and increased investments need to be made into watering and maintenance.
Annual operating costs for urban forest management staff are estimated to be around $305,000, along with another $75,000 to 100,000 for capital projects.
One of the goals is to reach canopy coverage of 30 percent in each Port Moody neighbourhood, and the city is developing a 10-year planting program and prioritizing areas with low coverage.
Currently, coverage is only 24 percent in Coronation Park, 27 percent at Inlet Centre and 29 percent at Moody Centre.
The strategy aims to treat the city’s urban forests like any other municipal asset such as roads and drainage systems.
Canopy cover will be tracked in an asset management program, and standards will be created for soils and surface materials to ensure healthy growth.
Port Moody’s 3,707 acres of urban forests provide annual benefits totalling nearly $4 million from sequestering carbon, cleaning air and intercepting rainwater, according to the report.
Will the strategy be implemented quickly enough?
Some councillors expressed concern over the time it will take for new bylaws to come into force.
Coun. Haven Lurbiecki noted the strategy says it will take three to five years to update the language in the OCP, when some of the largest development proposals are coming in the near future.
“My point being that it seems very late, it seems too late,” Lurbiecki said. “And climate impacts and heat are (here) now.”
Coun. Amy Lubik agreed, stating the city should try to expedite some of these policies if possible.
While still working under the existing policies, staff said they are attempting to identify where trees need to be protected during development processes.
In the Woodland Park development, for instance, staff said they were able to negotiate having large amounts of wooded areas as park space.
Staff also said if possible, they will implement certain strategy items earlier, adding that several will come up in the next budget review.