The City of Victoria is allocating an extra $858,000 to its Urban Forest Master Plan, a move that one councillor argued would propel the removal of local cherry trees.
In a committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, council voted five-to-one to approve a motion put forward by Coun. Laurel Collins to put this year’s additional revenue into the city’s Urban Forest Master Plan, a detailed plan to increase greenspace and tree canopy coverage throughout the city.
“It’s important that we start to think of urban forests as infrastructure we need to start taking care of,” Collins said.
Coun. Geoff Young opposed the idea, citing the huge expense and the threat to the city’s famous pink blossoms.
“I refer now to the blossom-filled streets which will be emerging in a few days that I think a lot of people consider to be an important part of the city,” Young said. “The council has already adopted the explicit policy of the destruction of those landscapes. We have adopted the policy of not replacing those trees but rather replacing them with native trees.”
Young argued that with these additional funds, more trees will be identified and taken down more quickly, a move that likely would not sit well with the public.
“I think we’re moving too quickly on this, and I think the increase of spending in context of our other needs is not warranted,” Young said.
The Urban Forest Master Plan was approved by council in 2013, but little action has taken place to implement it.
Thomas Soulliere, director of parks, recreation and facilities noted that the additional funds would help staff implement and accelerate the work of the master plan.
He also noted that while the Urban Forest Master Plan is an effort to combat climate change, environmental changes are already affecting local trees.
“There’s a relative impact that [climate change is] having on the resilience of our trees, particularly trees that are not native. They are suffering, they are struggling. We are seeing a lot of trees having to be removed right now,” Soulliere said. “Our arborists are quite shocked at the rate of decline, which is significant. We’re seeing about 70 per cent of trees removed this year are because of that.”
Soulliere said replacing these trees with new, native trees would give them the best chance for success.
The $858,000 comes from newly assessed revenue, and will be in addition to the $1.67 million the city already spends on tree management.
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