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Orillia’s Urban Forest – A close-up look at Orillia’s tree canopy

Orillia has a long and beneficial relationship with the trees that shade our streets, line our waterfronts, and populate our parks.  These magnificent trees are one of the most frequently mentioned attributes of our city. Orillia’s tree canopy, including our parks, when last measured in 2015 was determined to be 32%. Not bad overall, but still shy of the 40% target used by many experts and cities.  Research suggests that a 40% canopy cover is the level at which an urban forest begins to substantially reduce temperatures – providing a natural cooling system in times of global warming.

‘Canopy’ is measured as the amount of coverage our urban trees provide.  Urban tree canopies are increasingly seen as more than just pleasant to look at and cool to sit under. More and more they are viewed as valuable infrastructure—green assets with real economic value.  For example, a house with trees around it is usually worth more than if there were fewer or no trees around it. The benefits of a green canopy are well known, but bear repeating: trees provide cooling shade, capture carbon, give off oxygen, and provide habitat for wildlife. Trees are proven to be beneficial to human health and, as was reported in a recent Sustainable Orillia feature, they may even contribute to improved academic achievement.   

Javier Cappella

In a conversation with Sustainable Orillia, Javier Cappella R.P.F., a registered professional forester and member of Orillia’s Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC), shared that protecting and expanding Orillia’s urban forest is the number one priority for him and his colleagues on the EAC. Javier says that factors such as disease, the age of a tree, storm damage, and encroaching development make it difficult to confirm exact coverage levels at any given time, but suggests that a range of 30% to 40% coverage is a good target.  The Committee’s three-year plan is already underway and consists of:

  • An update to Orillia’s Tree Preservation bylaw (completed 06/21)
  • The development of a public education program for tree conservation and care
  • An updated Orillia’s canopy study, and 
  • The development of an Orillia Urban Forest Management Strategy & Plan.

Javier indicated that the biggest challenge is to maintain the current canopy.   For the most part, Orillia is blessed with a mature canopy. However, as trees age, they need regular maintenance or they will need to be replaced sooner than need-be. Javier stresses that “Removing a tree should be the very last resort.” Javier closed his remarks by reiterating the importance of cooperation between private owners and the City’s tree management plan. Approximately half of Orillia’s canopy grows on privately owned land, suggesting that we, as individual owners and citizens, can proactively take responsibility to protect and expand our tree canopy.

Another champion of Orillia’s canopy is Councillor Tim Lauer. Tim was born and raised in Orillia and has childhood memories of running along city streets that were like tunnels, thanks to the overarching trees. Although the canopy is less today than when he was a youngster, Lauer feels that Orillia hasn’t done too badly. He’d prefer to see the coverage percentage up closer to 40% and stressed several times the importance of keeping an eye on the health and abundance of our urban forest. Like Javier, Tim—a self-described ‘tree hugger’—feels the biggest challenge in protecting and expanding our canopy is to recognize and act on the fact that there are lots of things you can do before removing a tree. He encourages all owners to consult an arborist to explore options on a tree-by-tree basis.  

Tim indicated that he is seeing a significant mindset shift of late as more and more people realize the true value of trees and are prepared to invest in them. “Trees have monetary value,” he notes. “It’s not a whim. They are real assets to monitor and maintain.” He believes people are willing and able to take protective measures, but need more encouragement and information. As reported elsewhere Tim feels strongly that the City needs to provide leadership in this regard and should look closely at what we are doing as a City to protect our urban forest.  

Every year, the City of Orillia plants between 300 and 500 trees across the city.   Details of their program can be found at https://www.orillia.ca/en/city-hall/cityoforilliatreeprogram.aspx and the site includes guidelines on how to request boulevard tree plantings for your neighbourhood.  You can also reference the recently approved ‘Tree Preservation Bylaw’ there.  

The protection and expansion of the health and biodiversity of our tree canopy will be an ongoing opportunity for Orillia.  Our canopy is a significant part of Orillia’s quality of life and appeal as a community.  An effective communications and education program will prompt more pressure on our civic leaders to enact stronger measures that will further expand and protect our magnificent canopy.  Given Sustainable Orillia’s current theme, “Trees – Our Partners in Sustainability,” we will support the Environmental Advisory Committee, Councillor Lauer, and all other like-minded Orillians in their efforts to this end.  

In caring for the trees on your property, as well as trees in adjacent public areas, and by planting more trees wherever practical, your actions will counter the effects of climate change right here where we live and breathe!

 Orillia Matters – June 1, 2021 edition.

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