It’s the seed of a good idea — let it grow

Planting a tree seems easy: dig hole, place seedling in hole, backfill hole with dirt, top off with mulch and water.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/01/2022 (333 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Planting a tree seems easy: dig hole, place seedling in hole, backfill hole with dirt, top off with mulch and water.

But, as Winnipeg is finding out, planting a million trees is not a simple matter.

In 2019, Mayor Brian Bowman introduced the Million Tree Challenge, which called on residents, businesses and not-for-profit agencies to plant one million trees on private and public property by the time Winnipeg’s population reaches one million people, which is expected around 2040.

The campaign initially seemed to have potential to give citizens an outlet to do something positive to fight climate change, and also to bolster Winnipeg’s tree canopy, which is under assault from harmful invaders such as the emerald ash borer, Dutch Elm disease and the cottony ash psyllid, also known as jumping tree lice.

But enthusiasm for the project has wilted considerably as citizens find the green initiative is bogged down by administrative entanglements.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES City Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) has recommended the city establish a simplified approval process by the time citizens are ready to roll up their sleeves and get planting in the spring.

Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West), who called the process “a bureaucratic nightmare,” noted it takes volunteers many weeks, or even months, to secure approvals from up to seven different city departments to launch one tree-planting project on city-owned land. Some have required more than 60 email exchanges before the roots hit the ground.

The councillor has recommended the city establish a simplified approval process by the time citizens are ready to roll up their sleeves and get planting in the spring. Her call for better communication includes the development of a clear checklist of steps needed to obtain planting approval.

The challenge for city officials will be to heed Ms. Lukes’ recommendations to streamline the planting process while still ensuring the tree-planting initiatives are well planned, ensuring the right type of trees are planted in the right way in the right places.

Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) called the process of launching a tree-planting project “a bureaucratic nightmare,” noting it takes volunteers many weeks, or even months, to secure approvals.

To do otherwise, to allow citizens without dendrology knowledge to plant haphazardly in a type of forestry “trees-for-all,” could do more harm than good as trees are planted in locations where roots grow to impede underground gas or water lines, or branches blossom to block the vision of road traffic.

The tension resides in finding a way to tap the eagerness of arboriculture amateurs while still ensuring their volunteer efforts are focused in directions that are best for Winnipeg’s urban forest. Fortunately for the city officials faced with this challenge, they can learn from many places around the world undergoing similar projects.

Red tape blamed for hindering tree-planting efforts on city property

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS "I’m trying to prove that we can easily do it if we do it the right way," said Louise May.

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Concerns are growing that excessive red tape is thwarting efforts to get trees planted on city property, despite Winnipeg’s goal to get a million in the ground within the next two decades.

It can take volunteers many weeks, or even months, to secure approvals from up to seven different city departments to launch one tree planting project on city-owned land — a “bureaucratic nightmare” that threatens to discourage volunteers, said Coun. Janice Lukes.

The Waverley West councillor is calling for city officials to create a clear checklist of steps needed to obtain planting approval and to improve city communication to expedite such requests.

“There’s no checklist, there’s no system… that is given to the volunteers so they know what to do, who they should call. Instead, they’re left to flounder and try to figure it out themselves. So, what happens is countless emails go back and forth,” said Lukes.

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Tree-planting initiatives have become a highly public outreach of many environmental campaigns around the globe in recent years. From the United Nations’ Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to restore or plant one trillion trees by 2030, to Canada’s Two Billion Trees program and similar programs in dozens of countries around the world, governments are looking to trees’ ability to capture carbon and reduce greenhouse gases as an affordable part of climate-change solutions.

Additional benefits to a healthy cover of trees include water purification, resistance to flooding, a habitat for biodiversity and citizen well-being.

Many governments are, like Winnipeg’s, encouraging citizens to pick up a spade and get planting. It was recently announced in Wales that every household will be offered a free tree, to plant on their property or have added to a forest on their behalf.

It’s in the context of this global plant-a-thon that Winnipeg officials are tasked with doing our city’s part and greatly increasing the 17,469 trees that have been planted so far under this program.

Winnipeggers have demonstrated they’re willing to dig in to help their city stay green. Their enthusiasm should be encouraged, not tangled in red tape.

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