Winnipeg’s urban canopy is disappearing at an alarming rate, according to a coalition lobbying for $6 million more in city funds to protect it.

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This article was published 6/12/2021 (208 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg’s urban canopy is disappearing at an alarming rate, according to a coalition lobbying for $6 million more in city funds to protect it.

"There needs to be a paradigm shift here. We really need to stop seeing trees as just this beautifying add-on to a city. They’re absolutely critical to the good health and functioning of a city… We know that this canopy saves us $53 million every year and that is not being reflected in any kind of asset management plan or in the city budget," said Erna Buffie, a member of the Trees Please Winnipeg coalition.

Winnipeg’s "State of the Urban Forest" report notes local trees provide benefits that would cost many millions of dollars to replace each year, since they store carbon, absorb water runoff and remove pollution from the air, while also shading people and buildings to create energy savings.

The city’s preliminary 2022 budget already proposes to add $4 million in operating support for trees over the next two years. Trees Please calls that commitment a "good start" but hopes for another $6 million in capital spending over the next three years to enhance tree pruning, improve Dutch elm disease management and replace lost trees more quickly.

The coalition says that investment is urgently needed, since Winnipeg loses an average of 2,000 more mature trees to disease than it plants each year. In 2020, only 19 per cent of all removed public trees were replaced.

Those facts underline a critical need for stable capital investments, said Trees Please member Lisa Forbes.

"(We need to) allow the planning of long-term infrastructure projects… so that the city can get involved with multi-government infrastructure collaborations… Allocating more to capital leverages the city’s capacity to be able to get matching funds for natural infrastructure funds," said Forbes.

The group also hopes to convince the city to speed up its tree pruning schedule, which has slowed to once every 31 years. Trees Please said municipal trees should instead be pruned once every seven years, which could help prevent Dutch elm disease from travelling.

Buffie said adding $6 million to the tree budget won’t erase the city’s entire tree planting backlog but should offer progress within tight budget constraints.

"I think this is really critical given the situation we’re in. I don’t think people are really registering that (our tree loss is) a crisis," she said.

A city councillor agreed protecting the urban forest is a key budget priority, though finding additional funds could be a challenge.

"It is really critically important that we continue funding trees and this was a stretch for us to add… the additional $4 million (already proposed in the 2022 operating budget)," said Coun. Sherri Rollins, chairwoman of the protection, community services and parks committee.

Rollins said further investment may be possible post-budget, since council is awaiting a master plan for trees, as part of a parks strategy update.

"I think there’s more to come and that’s why I feel confident in presenting the preliminary budget, that does add more for trees, (as it is)."

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.