The City of Winnipeg’s goal to plant one million trees over the next two decades triggered thousands of new plantings during recent months, but that number fell thousands short of the number of trees taken down during the same period.
Winnipeg’s forestry branch removed 6,781 trees and replaced 190 trees, from Sept. 19, 2019 — the date Mayor Brian Bowman announced the One Million Tree Challenge — and July 31, 2020, documents obtained by the Free Press show.
The forestry replacement program is not part of the challenge to add one million net new trees to the city by the time Winnipeg’s population reaches one million people, which is expected around 2040.
But the losses underline the difficulty in enhancing the city's tree canopy, as so many trees must be cut down each year, said Dave Domke, Winnipeg’s manager of parks and open space.
"People are seeing boulevard trees in front of their houses getting removed," said Domke. "We’ve been dealing with a lot of these tree diseases for a number of years... (and) these numbers just continue to climb."
The tree removals were needed due to natural mortality, damage from the October 2019 snowstorm and several types of disease, he said.
Yet while those losses occurred, the One Million Tree Challenge did see Winnipeg add 3,700 new trees this year, including 2,000 linked to a donation by CN Rail, 800 planted by individual Winnipeggers and 900 planted by the city’s naturalist services staff, said Domke.
Since the city decided against calling for major public planting efforts once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the actual planting numbers are especially notable, he said.
"Definitely, there’s been a slowdown due to COVID, but now we’re slowly but surely establishing capacity to help… deal with this program. We wanted to get it in the ground and 3,700 trees is fairly impressive, I think," he said, adding that a target number for tree plantings was not set for the first year of the challenge.
In February, Domke estimated the overall program would take up to five years to ramp up to an annual goal to plant 50,000 trees, while also requiring fundraising and the help of multiple stakeholders. He predicted the effort would cost about $43 million over two decades, noting each tree costs from $5 to $750.
Tree-planting has been widely promoted in recent years as a way to combat climate change, since trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The loss of thousands of trees in recent months underlines the need for the challenge, the mayor said.
"The main reason for the million tree challenge was an acknowledgement that invasive species, including Emerald ash borer, Dutch elm disease, are having a devastating impact on our tree canopy. We haven’t been (keeping) pace as a city," Bowman said.
The challenge aims to attract the private sector, non-profit groups and individual Winnipeggers to contribute to the urban canopy and was never meant to be an independent city project, he said.
"The whole point is to put pressure on our community (and) that includes folks like myself. The point is let’s set this challenge and let’s push ourselves," said Bowman.
The city has raised $1.25 million to help fund the effort so far.
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.