Our disappearing urban forest

On August 8, Collingwood council will “consider” a proposal to spend “up to $100,000 to retain a consultant to inform the next council on how Collingwood can better protect [our] tree canopy,” according to a story in CollingwoodToday. The article says, “With Collingwood’s population rapidly increasing, the town is behind when it comes to its policies around [our] tree canopy.”

Given how poorly the town maintains those few trees it does plant, it’s not surprising: there are dead trees in the Second Street dog park, dead trees along the Third Street boulevard, dead trees along Heritage Drive… all planted by the town then abandoned in the hottest summers when they should have been watered and fertilized. We seem to cut down more trees in this community than we plant.

Council is contemplating hiring another consultant; wasting $100,000 of taxpayers’ money to do what we elected our council to do: come up with ideas and direction to meet the community’s needs. But our current council would prefer spending our tax dollars on an outsider rather than thinking and coming up with ideas themselves.

I expect you could buy and plant a lot of trees with $100,000. Wouldn’t that be a better idea instead of paying someone to tell us to buy and plant a lot of trees? And, of course, maintain them after planting.

It’s not hard to go online and research what other communities have done to preserve and protect their urban forest. It’s not difficult to pick up the phone and call other municipalities and ask to speak to someone about it in, say, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, London, or Windsor.

It’s not difficult to consult the Green Municipal Fund Council and ask if they have resources our town can tap into. Or ask the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) if they have any policy papers, guides, or resources we might use. Or ask the Ontario Urban Forest Council for advice (they even have a Facebook page). Or ask the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition if they have anything to offer. Or ask the Ontario Professional Foresters’ Association (OPFA). Or Forests Ontario.

But no, our council wants to hire a consultant to do it for them and spend $100,000 of your money to do what they should be doing themselves. But you and I know they were not elected for their initiative or wit.

We have a staff person whose job it is to look after our plants and trees in public spaces. Can’t we ask her to give us advice? Or to research what we should do to build up the urban forest? We have a nursery in town, and others in the region. Can’t we ask them for advice? We have a horticultural society whose members are dedicated to plants and maintaining the arboretum. Can’t we ask them for advice before we spend $100,000?

Collingwood needs a new council, one that spends our money a lot more wisely.

Update: to read an expanded and updated version of this post, please see my Scripturient blog.

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