25 February 2024

If a tree is ripped out in the suburbs should anyone care? Yes, the urban forest is everybody's business

| Ian Bushnell
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government workers planting a tree

Canberra’s tree planting program is a public service that deserves respect. Photo: ACT Government.

Canberrans love their trees. Well, not all of us it seems.

Transport Canberra and City Services has told an audit of its tree management program that one of the reasons it is falling behind in its planting targets is because some residents just don’t want a free tree or two on their verge.


Some want to be able to keep it clear for illegal parking. Others are worried about safety, presumably a tree falling on someone or the house. And some don’t want to have to care for a tree (ie, give it a drink with a bucket of water every now and then).

An assessment of the Street Forestry Program found that a not insignificant 17.6 per cent of residents refused proposed new plantings on their verges.

That means TCCS has to find another location, which chews up time and resources and puts the program further behind.

READ MORE ACT Government’s 30 per cent tree canopy goal in trouble, audit finds

Opposition to planting is the leading cause of what TCCS calls re-routing, and it has been increasing since spring 2021.

A total of 2485 trees have been subject to re-routing since then from a total of 20,117 trees planted during this period.

That’s 12.4 per cent of all trees planted. TCCS estimates that each tree subject to re-routing adds one to two hours of effort to the planting program.

That raises the question of why accepting a tree is optional.

TCCS tries to talk to residents about the benefits of trees and particular species, but staff also face abuse, and the trees are often vandalised or ripped up.

Three points here: staff shouldn’t be abused or threatened for performing a public service; the verge is public property, as are the trees; and damaging them or worse is a criminal act.

The government isn’t just planting trees for the hell of it – although they have an intrinsic value – it is part of maintaining and extending the urban forest to ease the urban heat island effect and cool our suburbs, especially in a warming climate.

It’s not just a Canberra greenie thing but a mitigation strategy being deployed by all Australian cities.

The ACT aims to achieve 30 per cent tree canopy cover by 2045.

Those selfish residents who privatise their verges for parking and choose to ruin the good work being done on our behalf by TCCS staff and contractors are cheating their neighbours and fellow Canberrans.

They deserve to be prosecuted and forced to pay for replacement trees. In fact, they should have to plant them as well, or maybe do some community service so they might realise the importance of trees and the errors of their ways.

READ ALSO Canberra Miniature Railway running out of puff due to lack of volunteers

Of course, the fact that the tree program is faltering is not all the fault of these recalcitrants.

They are just one factor, and TCCS needs to deal with its own shortcomings.

TCCS finds it hard to do it all in-house and secure contractors, and Yarralumla Nursery struggles to maintain supply.

As you would expect, there are bureaucratic issues, such as a lack of documented arrangements between TCCS and the nursery, policy and strategy failures, and competing objectives among directorates.

These can be remedied.

However, changing human behaviour is more problematic and necessary because the urban forest is something we all have a stake in and is a piece of public infrastructure that will literally save lives during heat waves.

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Dont see many the YIMBY people talking about the real conflict between impact of higher density, small blocks and car parking on tree canopy. Mainly the YIMBY groups like to point to a policy around tree protection but not consider the reality of tree refusal, tree vandalisation and “”re-routing. I have a sneaky suspicion that there would be a correlation between newer suburbs with higher density and tree refusal.

HiddenDragon10:50 pm 26 Feb 24

“They deserve to be prosecuted and forced to pay for replacement trees. In fact, they should have to plant them as well, or maybe do some community service so they might realise the importance of trees and the errors of their ways.”

Yea verily! – but why stop there, what about public stonings or Maoist denunciation rallies to shame these enemies of the people and provide a stern warning to any other miscreants tempted by such wayward tendencies……?

On the other hand, the stats quoted above suggest that only about 1 in 6 residents object to proposed plantings and about 1 in 8 plantings do not go ahead as originally proposed. This is not exactly the makings of a crisis, particularly when we are told that there is a shortage of saplings and of people to plant them – better that they go where they will be welcomed, or at least tolerated.

Dianne Fogwell9:51 pm 26 Feb 24

No one asked us if we wanted some midnight vandal to cut our trees down, just so disrespectful. we love the planting program and would have more trees please.

Illegal parking on verges, median strips and in parks is welcomed by the ACT Government. They also don’t care that their trees are damaged or destroyed by bad parking.

Old mate felt quite strongly about such parking, preferring to see his local park and verge protected and cared for. He was told by ACT Rangers to stop telling people to move their cars, leaving the task to the trained officials. So, old mate started taking photos of each incursionand providing reports via “fix my street”. Imagine old mates frustration when the issue continued. He then got a response to a complaint with a link to a document, pointing to a case study. I have seen the photos and reports lodged and they were reporting factually.

Old mate is unlikely to vote for Steel.

Illegal parking on the verge! Is this really a thing? Small blocks, narrow roads, huge houses… where are visitors expected to park? A large number of my neighbours park on their verge, mainly in share houses. I’ve never seen a parking officer prowling the suburbs.

Don’t forget that the huge houses have 4 parking spaces on their site – 2 in the garage, and 2 in the driveway. While cars are parked everywhere in my street, on the verge, on the footpath, in the No Stopping zone, next to the unbroken white lines, there is plenty of legal parking around the corner. It would mean that the driver would have to walk 50 metres to the house though.

Nek minnit, parking officers will be prowling the suburbs for illegal parkers

GrumpyGrandpa4:28 pm 26 Feb 24

Pretty big generalisations, harken.

Capacity to park 2 cars on your driveway will depend on the width of the driveway, the distance the house is set back from the road, the slope of the driveway etc.

In my street, most houses have parking areas on the “nature strip”, including ours.

Our driveway is not suitable for “visitors parking” (unless cars are parked on the “nature strip” section of the driveway, which of course is “public land”.

In our area, there is no parking lanes, on the side of the roads. The
closest public parking area, is a shopping centre car park, that is about a 10 minute walk and even then, the centre owner isn’t going to be happy with non-shoppers parking their cars there!

GrumpyGrandpa4:40 pm 26 Feb 24

Nearly every house in our street has a car parking area on the “nature strip”, including us.

You mention “visitors”. What about families who have adults children living at home? A house a street away has 5 cars and work related vehicles parked on their “nature strip”. Where do you suggest they park?

There are no parking areas on the roads, so unless people park on “nature strips”, there is no where to park, unless you trek from the shopping centre and the shopping centres make their parking available for shoppers, not for random people to park.

Technically, it might be illegal to park on the “nature strip”, but no government is going to start fining people for doing it.

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