Community groups and neighbourhood associations across Winnipeg are speaking up for the city’s trees.
The coalition, which includes 22 groups — from Transcona to St. Vital, St. Matthews to South St. Boniface and neighbourhoods in between — are hoping to put pressure on the standing policy committee to increase the City’s forestry department’s budget for 2020 and beyond.
"Over time the City has repeatedly cut funds for maintenance and tree disease management," said Lisa Forbes, a member of the Glenelm Neighbourhood Association (GeNA)’s tree committee, who is acting as a spokesperson for the ad hoc coalition. "Our trees are a capital asset worth $5.4 billion. You need to put in maintenance costs on that."
Each year in Manitoba, approximately 10,000 elm trees are infected by Dutch elm disease, while the threat of the emerald ash borer and cottony ash psyllid, or jumping tree lice, threaten to wipe out the City’s ash population in the next 20 years.
"Winnipeg’s urban elm forest, the largest in North America, is an irreplaceable and international treasure," Forbes said. "The time to act is now."
For every two trees lost, Forbes explained, the City has a budget to replace one. This past fall, GeNA’s tree committee received $53,000 in land dedication reserve funds to plant nearly 60 trees on boulevards in Glenelm in an effort to match the City’s effort replace the number of trees lost to Dutch elm disease in recent years. According to Forbes, the Armstrong Point Residents Association, the Wolseley Residents Association, and the Friends of Peanut Park group have undertaken similar projects recently, and that the Point Douglas Residents Committee is currently working towards a similar project.
"But (these) small project(s) are a lot of effort to administer, and a lot of money for what it took to do it," she said. "We wondered, how is this sustainable given the magnitude of this disaster we’re facing?"
This year, the urban forestry department’s budget was $4 million. A sticking point for the coalition members is a 2019 Parks & Open Space Division 2019 Preliminary Operating Budget presentation, wherein the department identified a shortfall of $7.61 million.
OURS-Winnipeg (Outdoor Urban Recreational Spaces – Winnipeg), a city-wide, community-based green space advocate organization has posted a form letter online urging the mayor and city councillors to reinstate the shortfall, and commit the department’s funding through the four-year multi-year budget currently being considered by council.
"October’s unprecedented storm displayed the challenges extreme weather can place on the urban forest and the need for its stable funding and care," Ronald Mazur, a spokesperson for OURS-Winnipeg, said in a statement.
"We don’t know what urban forestry is asking for (this year), but we’re saying at least give them what they didn’t get last year," Forbes added.
OURS-Winnipeg and the coalition of resident groups are asking residents to contact their city councillor, and to attend a public hearing on Nov. 27, where the urban forestry’s budget will be discussed.
"The point is we want community to stand behind trees," Forbes said.
To view or to sign OURS-Winnipeg’s letter, visit www.saveourcanopy.com
Community journalist — The Herald
Sheldon Birnie is the community journalist for The Herald Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112