Whatever shade of government the ACT has after 17 October, one thing seems guaranteed – a lot of trees are going to be planted over the next decade.
The Barr Government has released its draft Urban Forest Strategy for public comment, promising 25,000 trees by 2023 in its first stage, and reaching 450,000 by 2045 to achieve a target of 30 per cent tree canopy cover across the city.
The Canberra Liberals donned the gardening gloves last month, pledging even more plantings – a headline-grabbing one million trees over the decade, designed to undercut any government policy, and with a sub-text of a Labor war on green space.
Both are looking to the community to pitch in, either through the government’s Adopt a Park program for local groups to plant and maintain trees or the Liberals’ voucher scheme in which every child starting kindergarten gets a voucher to buy a tree from any Canberra nursery.
The Liberals believe trees can be had for $10 to $20, which the government immediately attacked as unrealistic. The government costed the policy at $380 a tree, which includes five years of watering, maintenance, preparation for planting the trees, digging the hole and even letterbox drops informing the public about the plan.
Whatever the real price tag of either policy, the fight for the green vote is an acknowledgement of the importance of trees and the urban forest in the public’s mind, especially in a warming climate.
That’s a theme Minister for City Services Chris Steel was quick to take up when asked about the Liberals’ million trees pledge.
”We’ve got a cogent plan to comprehensively manage our urban forest and plant new trees to reach 30 per cent tree canopy cover,” he said.
”That contrasts with a one-line policy brought out before an election that is just designed to shore up their green credentials because we know that they’re not serious about action on climate change.”
The government might be accused of doing the same, releasing the strategy three months out from an election and using the power of incumbency with its bureaucratic resources to produce its ”cogent” plan.
After all, the urban forest has deteriorated on Labor’s watch, with the Liberals saying the number of street and community trees has dropped by 3,000 each year, and the tree canopy has fallen from 30 per cent to 21 per cent.
The new strategy aims to turn that around, through protection and maintenance of new and established trees, education and conservation programs, and through community partnerships that share the burden of caring for the urban forest
It also involves changing the profile of the forest by planting more drought resilient and diverse species to cope with the hotter and drier climate expected over the coming decade.
More water sensitive urban design and permeable surfaces will also play its part, with Mr Steel also announcing a trial at the Jamison shopping centre to test the use of stormwater runoff to grow healthier and more resilient trees.
Eight new trees will be planted in a trench that is specially designed to harvest stormwater. The trees will be monitored over the next two to three years and compared with a nearby control site where eight new trees will be planted outside of the water sensitive urban design treatment. The hope is that trees will be less reliant on active watering.
Acknowledging that some parts of Canberra lack the kind of tree cover in others take for granted, the strategy aims for a more balanced canopy across the city.
Mr Steel said that some areas of Canberra had less than 5 per cent cover, while some had 40 per cent.
”We want to see a more equitable distribution of trees across Canberra so everyone can benefit from a cooler city with the shade they provide plus all the economic and social benefits that trees provide as well,” he said.
Liberals environment spokesperson Elizabeth Lee said Labor’s strategy was just a branding exercise three months out from the election, and they had left it too late and Canberrans had woken up to the fact that Labor had not taken care of our urban trees for the past 19 years.
Ms Lee said the Liberals would listen to the experts about what species of trees to plant and where they should be planted to ensure they are sustainable for the long term.
Their policy costings would be released before polling day.
Whatever the result in October, it looks like the urban forest is going to be a winner.
To view the draft Urban Forest Strategy go to the Your Say website.