Butchers Road, Comox  /  George Le Masurier photo

A new Courtenay strategy will guide how the city manages its urban forests

May 21, 2019 | Environment

By George Le Masurier

Back in the 1980s, it was uncommon for small communities like the City of Courtenay to even think about the value of its urban forests. When the city adopted a tree bylaw in 1989 that regulated the cutting down of trees on public and private lands, Courtenay became something of a leader in urban planning.

The idea of protecting trees as a natural asset, once only the providence of environmentalists, is now a widely accepted best practice of urban planning in flourishing communities.

But the price of being an early adopter was that Courtenay had no overarching policy to guide its decision-making about how to update its tree bylaw.

That gap became obvious during a controversial review and update to the bylaw that began in 2015 and didn’t conclude until 2017. Groups like the Comox Valley Development and Constructions Association pressed for a less restrictive bylaw while other groups favored greater protections.

So the Courtenay planning staff are now in the final throes of developing an Urban Forest Strategy that will guide how the city manages trees on private and public property for the next 30 years.

FURTHER READING: Review the draft Urban Forest Strategy

Comox Valley residents have just two more days to add their input into the strategy through the online survey. It closes on Thursday, May 23.

Many Vancouver Island communities have an Urban Forest strategy or are in the process of developing one.

Cumberland issued an RFP for consulting services to assist in creating its Urban Forest Management Plan, which includes trees on both public and private property within the urban landscape. Comox has a plan, but it applies only to public lands.

Courtenay Policy Planner Nancy Gothard said the Urban Forest Strategy will be a guiding document for the city that states a shared vision, goals and targets, and will inform the decision-making of future councils.

“It’s a ‘plan’ similar to the Downtown Revitalization Plan,” Gothard said. “If it’s adopted by City Council it will guide decisions, but not be adopted as a bylaw.”

 

Courtenay’s urban forest today

Although the city has had a tree bylaw for 30 years, the tree canopy has been declining, especially in the last four years.

In 1996, 38 percent of the city was covered and that remained fairly constant until 2014 when it dropped by two percent, and another two percent by the end of 2016. Another one percent was lost in 2018, leaving the tree canopy now at 33 percent, most of it on privately-owned land.

That’s similar to other communities, such as Campbell River. Comox is considerably lower at 23 percent.

The canopy cover target for the Pacific Northwest ecoregion is 40 percent.

The draft Urban Forest Strategy doesn’t propose a specific target, yet. Gothard said the city is asking the public through the survey what the target should be and will make a specific target recommendation to council.

 

Why have an urban forest?

Recent research generally supports that greener communities enjoy better health and wealth, and are more active and socially bonded. Communities everywhere in the world are looking at the role of trees in providing these benefits.

“As an ecological asset, Courtenay’s urban forest plays a critical role in sustaining localized hydrology, to support creek and fish health,” Gothard said. “We also know that the public loves their neighbourhood forested trails and values trees for the shade, wildlife habitat and beauty they provide.”

Emerging research also indicates that access to nature — and even views of it — assist with boosting immunity, more rapid healing, and reducing the anxiety and stress, ailments of modern life.

“Urban trees and forests clearly require management and care in order to provide these benefits,” she said. “But when invested in, they are proving to be a very good return on investment.”

 

Benefits of trees

According to Canopy.org trees absorb air borne pollutants, which improves health and allergic conditions. They absorb carbon dioxide, and one tree produces enough oxygen for 18 people every day.

A tree is a natural air conditioner. The evaporation from a single tree can produce the cooling effect of ten room-size, residential air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.

Tree windbreaks can reduce residential heating costs by up to 15 percent; while shading and evaporative cooling from trees can cut residential air-conditioning costs by nearly 50 percent.

Homes landscaped with trees sell more quickly and are worth 5 percent to 15 percent more than homes without trees. Where the entire street is tree-lined, homes may be worth 25 percent more.

Trees absorb and block sound, reducing noise pollution by as much as 40 percent.

 

 

 

 

URBAN FOREST STRATEGY BACKGROUND

One year after beginning a comprehensive exploration and community consultation into Courtenay’s urban forest, the draft plan is now available for public feedback and we want to hear from you!

The Urban Forest Strategy will guide how we as a community protect and manage trees on public and private land within the Courtenay boundaries. The drafted Strategy recommends the vision for what our future urban forest will be and a framework for how to get there.

The survey focuses on a few key questions to gather final input on the vision, preferred canopy target, your priorities and willingness to participate in proposed urban forest actions.

All survey participants are welcome and encouraged to consult the draft Urban Forest Strategy, including previous consultation findings, which are available on the City of Courtenay’s website at: www.courtenay.ca/urbanforest

Questions and written feedback may also be directed to City staff at planning@courtenay.ca

Survey closes May 23, 2019. Please encourage your friends and neighbours to participate!

— City of Courtenay website

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