New plan calls for bigger city forest

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Forest likely worth billions, says planner

A new report sets out how St. Albert should protect what one city planner says could be a $7 billion asset: its forests.

City council received a draft of the proposed urban forest management plan Monday.

The plan, if approved, will outline how the city will protect and enhance St. Albert’s forests over the next 20 years.

“St. Albert’s trees represent an irreplaceable asset,” the draft reads, one that, unlike sidewalks and roads, will increase in value over time.

Part of this management plan will involve calculating the value of that asset in terms of ecological services such as carbon storage, city parks and open spaces manager Louise Stewart said in an interview. A previous study she did for Strathcona County found that community’s forests removed some $28.1 million of pollution and $1.3 million of carbon a year, and had a structural (i.e. replacement) value of about $16 billion.

Based on Strathcona’s data, Stewart estimated that St. Albert’s trees would be worth $3 to $7 billion if they were all replaced at once with equivalent-sized trees. She cautioned, however, that she had yet to make a formal assessment of the city’s forests.

Stewart said crews used laser radar to calculate the amount of tree and shrub cover in St. Albert. The city as a whole averaged 13 per cent forest cover – pretty good when you consider that Edmonton averages 10, she said.

The draft plan reports that that Braeside had the most forest cover in the city at about 31 per cent, with the mostly agricultural Ville Giroux neighbourhood on the west side of town having the least at 0.23.

The draft calls on the city to create a growth target for that tree canopy. It noted that the city could easily reach 20 per cent tree cover in 20 years by maintaining and replacing the trees it has now, and could achieve 25 per cent with an aggressive tree-planting program.

Environmental Advisory Committee chair Tanya Doran called on the city to shoot for 25 per cent at Monday’s meeting, calling that a slightly ambitious but attainable target.

The draft calls for the city to create a database of the condition and location of every tree in town for maintenance purposes.

To assemble this database, crews would take a measuring tape with them on every tree call and type the location, size and condition of each tree they work on into a smartphone or iPad, Stewart said. This data could then be fed into a program made by the USDA Forest Service called i-Tree that can model the economic impact of a forest, such as carbon stored per year.

The draft notes that trees provide many ecological services, such as greenhouse gas reduction, shore stabilization, animal habitat and water purification. Research also suggests that forests reduce rates of weight gain, stress, asthma and other chronic illnesses.

The draft recommends that the city create best-management practices for tree maintenance and placement, as well as penalties for developers who remove trees improperly – possibly a fine and a requirement to plant two trees for every one removed. City environment director Leah Kongsrude said such penalties were commonly found in other communities and would deter harm to trees.

The draft calls on the city to hire a full-time urban forest manager and create education programs to raise awareness of the importance of the urban forest. It does not call for regulations of trees on private lands, but notes that the city could create such rules.

Kongsrude said council was to provide comment on the plan by April 30 and review a final draft of it in June.

The draft is available in the agenda package for the March 20 council meeting.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.