20 July 2020

Labor joins tree election battle with draft Urban Forest Strategy release

| Ian Bushnell
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Aerial View of Weston Creek

The urban forest is set to be an election battleground. Photo: File.

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.

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George Watling11:53 am 30 Aug 20

The ACT Government’s proposed Urban Forest Strategy is a death blow for Canberra’s livability and local ecology.
The ACT Government plans to remove trees before the hollows our native birds (gangs gangs, rosella, king parrots etc.) need to breed can form. A tree needs to get 100 to 120 years old before it can even start to for hollow.
Under the strategy the ACT Government intends to:
+ put urban infill (densification) before tree planting and protection,
+ turn Canberra’s existing urban forest into a giant tree plantation with no tree being allowed to get to 80 to 100 years old even though the trees that can form hollows for wildlife can live for 300 to 400 years,
+ allow undersized (developer designed) nature strips with limited or no space for trees to become the norm,
+ plant trees species that will not support local wildlife.
The strategy has been developed by urban planners, foresters, and arborists who have little to no understanding of or interest in the local ecosystem and the science behind the urban heat island effect.

George Watling3:57 pm 22 Jul 20

It is about smart planting choices. We should be planting more local natives. Yellow box, Red gum and others. They can live 300 to 400 years, they have evolved to deal with the local soils and heat and they provide fantastic cooling benefits. Check out Ian Bushnell’s 14 October 2019 RiotACT article titled – ‘Native trees best suited to beat Canberra’s intensifying heat, says report’

HiddenDragon6:05 pm 21 Jul 20

The only aspect of the draft strategy which is absolutely certain to become a reality is that trees on leased land which are already making life a misery (often a very expensive misery) for the resident(s) will be even harder to remove –

“the Tree Protection Act only applies to regulated trees on private (leased) land once they have met a set of criteria that is currently set at an insufficient threshold.” (p.34)

By comparison, if there’s anything in there which sets clear obligations on new developments, it’s very well hidden – the section of the document about balancing and diversifying the urban forest (pp.40-41) is very short on specifics and seems to be about street plantings “where possible”.

So in essence, really just more of the same – obsessive protection of existing trees on private blocks (and thus a powerful disincentive for new plantings) and nothing of substance to counter the spread of densifying heat islands in newer areas.

George Watling4:33 pm 22 Jul 20

Unfortunately we have lost too many trees (40,000 since the ACT Labor/Greens got into power) so we need protect what we have left. Otherwise we will end up living some dry dust bowl.

Re the heat islands in new area they exist because the government has give to much land to the developers and squeezed too many blocks into a limited area to make more money from land sales.

This resulted in there not being enough space to plant good sized shade trees in front and back yards and on nature strips.

The poor folks who live in these suburbs are pretty much doomed when it comes to the heat island effect. Their air-con costs will be through the roof. On 32 degree days the roads in front of their houses will get to 77 degrees and the concrete paving and driveways around their homes will get to 64 degrees. They will find their tiny block and big houses unlivable.

How about some proper management around existing trees and some smarter planting choices. So many eucalypts in Tuggeranong die each year because the tree type only has an expected life of 25 years. The dead tree gets replaced by a small eucalyptus which dies within a few months because it has been simply planted in dead dry clay soil.

I have 75 year old deciduous trees here in Deakin that look amazing and provide great shade cover.

To both political parties. It’s not about the number of trees, it’s about the suitability of the tree and how it fits in its surrounding landscape.

George Watling3:56 pm 22 Jul 20

It is about smart planting choices. We should be planting more local natives. Yellow box, Red gum and others. They can live 300 to 400 years, they have evolved to deal with the local soils and heat and they provide fantastic cooling benefits. Check out Ian Bushnell’s 14 October 2019 RiotACT article titled – ‘Native trees best suited to beat Canberra’s intensifying heat, says report’

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