Pandemic trims 2022 tree program expectations


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Winnipeg’s goal to add one million new trees to its canopy is still possible, organizers say, though this year’s planting target appears set to be cut in half.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/06/2022 (337 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg’s goal to add one million new trees to its canopy is still possible, organizers say, though this year’s planting target appears set to be cut in half.

In September 2019, Mayor Brian Bowman announced the One Million Tree Challenge, which aims to get that number planted by the time the city’s population reaches one million people.

The city provided $140,000 to Trees Winnipeg to co-ordinate the effort in 2022, and city staff will seek council approval to provide another $70,000 grant in 2023.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Trees Winnipeg hoped to plant 40,000 trees in 2022, but now expects to plant 20,000.

A public service report notes 29,474 trees have been officially added to the city’s canopy since the program began.

But while Trees Winnipeg once hoped to plant 40,000 trees in 2022, it now expects to plant 20,000.

“I know what we’re going to struggle with is the capacity,” president Gerry Engel said Friday.

COVID-19 has made it challenging for the group’s volunteer board to engage with Winnipeggers and fulfil its primary goal of public education, which includes challenging citizens and groups to plant trees, Engel said.

The nearly 30,000 trees planted so far are a notable feat under those circumstances, he said.

While it’s always been the plan for Trees Winnipeg to reduce its reliance on city funding, its success with a reduced grant next year will largely depend on how much it can raise through donations.

“If we’re unable to raise funding elsewhere, then (it’s not enough.) That all depends on how successful we are on the outside,” said Engel.

Dave Domke, Winnipeg manager of parks and open space, stressed Trees Winnipeg has done a great job on public education.

Domke echoed the sentiment donations will play a key role in Winnipeg’s ability to meet planting targets going forward. The city set a target to plant 50,000 new trees per year by the fifth year of the program, which is currently in its third year.

That’s still possible, Domke said, noting every tree planted does make a difference.

“If we end up planting… 100,000 trees, 200,000, a million trees, whatever the figure is at the end of the day, our city is going to be better off, our province, our country and our planet is better off as a result of that,” he said.

The city once estimated the challenge could cost about $43 million to meet over two decades, with individual trees priced at between $5 and $750. As of last year, about $2.4 million had been raised to support that work.

The city could not provide an updated donation total Friday.

Trees Winnipeg’s civic funding is expected to cease completely in 2024, with a plan to rely on donations from that point forward, said Domke.

A city report notes staff are seeking funding from Natural Resources Canada’s 2 Billion Trees Program, which Coun. Sherri Rollins said would offer a significant boost.

“The federal government’s two billion tree program didn’t exist when we started, so I do believe there is an even stronger foundation for the success of Winnipeg’s tree canopy. There is greater momentum,” said Rollins, head of council’s protection, community services and parks committee.

A tree advocacy group is concerned the Million Tree Challenge has merely distracted Winnipeggers from the underfunding of urban forestry programs.

“The (challenge) subtly shifted the onus of tree planting from the city onto residents and non-profits,” Emma Durand-Wood, a volunteer with the Trees Please Winnipeg Coalition, said in an emailed statement.

The city should instead devote a staff position to the matter or commit stable and long-term funding to have a third party handle it, Durand-Wood said.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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