image supplied Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Port Moody currently has one of the best tree canopies in Metro Vancouver but without any action the city could lose approximately 124 acres of shade over the next three decades. 

On Tuesday, council was presented with a draft of the Urban Forest Management Strategy which recommends nearly tripling the amount of trees it replants annually to maintain current coverage. 

“A status quo scenario, conducting similar policies and programs as today, we anticipate would result in a gradual decline of tree canopy,” said Amelia Needoba, urban forestry specialist with Diamond Head Consultants. “(The replacement ratio)” is not quite catching up in the 30-year timeframe.”

A healthy tree canopy provides a city with a variety of benefits. Research has shown it to improve mental and physical health and air quality, along with habitat and ecosystems.

It also acts as a form of natural air conditioning during hot summer months and catches rainwater to reduce stormwater overflows.

More extreme weather events are something that local municipalities are having to adapt to.

Port Moody’s Climate Action plan estimates that by 2050 there will be twice as many summer days hotter than 25 degrees compared to the era before the year 2000. There is also a higher likelihood of extreme rainfall events.

In the wake of the summer 2021 heat dome which left 600 people dead province-wide, the BC Coroners Service recommended protection and restoration of the urban tree canopy and permeable surfaces as a long-term mitigation strategy.

Currently, Port Moody has 58 percent canopy coverage citywide (over 3,700 acres), and 28 percent coverage over urban areas. 

It has the third highest canopy coverage in Metro Vancouver, is a net contributor to the urban canopy cover in the region, and one of the few municipalities that is already meeting Metro Vancouver’s targets for 2050.

But while the city has a 2:1 tree-replacement ratio in its bylaws regarding new developments, it will still lose 2 percent coverage citywide, and 4 percent in urban areas.

Coun. Kyla Knowles said that she was surprised to hear the city’s trees were not replacing trees at a higher rate under the current replacement scheme.

Needoba said the tree-replacement rules do not apply to all lands and property within the city, adding that on balance, the replacement ratio is closer to 1:1 overall.

This is partly because the bylaw does not account for natural die off, or hazard trees that need to be removed – both of which are being amplified by climate change, according to staff.

Another factor is that young replacement trees have smaller coverage area and are often replanted on public lands due to limited site space on development sites.

“Often you’re taking out larger trees so the ratios and the numbers aren’t necessarily going to directly correlate to canopy coverage area,” said Julie Pavey-Tomlinson, director of environments and parks. “All numbers are not equal.”

City Manager Tim Savoie added the tree bylaw does not address trees on private property when no development application has been submitted. 

The report estimates that currently around 350 trees a year are being planted. If the city intends to maintain its current canopy, it will need to plant around 950 trees a year. 

Urban coverage would be increased to 30 percent by the increased planting, and would cost an estimated $200,000.

Canopy coverage would be largely added to singe-family areas, institutional areas and roadways; while most of the coverage loss would be felt in multi-family, mixed used and industrial areas.

Industrial and mixed employment areas generally have the highest population density and the least amount of coverage.

Port Moody’s mixed use areas currently only have a 16 percent coverage rate – the lowest in the city – and the report notes several blocks “have practically no trees at all.”

That figure is not expected to grow under the draft’s current recommendations.

Coun. Amy Lubik said the city needs to aim higher for mixed-use areas, as most growth the city is facing is not in single-family zoning.

“A 16 percent coverage target, to me, seems very small,” Lubik said. “We should be thinking about closer to 30 percent for all of our neighborhoods, and looking at how to do that in a thoughtful way that doesn’t block development.”

Lubik said an average urban canopy figure doesn’t reflect that some areas have little to no coverage. 

Several other councillors agreed with her.

Needoba said these outcomes often depend on the lot coverage of a development site.

“Where it’s really sort of property line to property line … the only canopy cover retained or replaced is on the public realm and the streetscape,” she said. “The area of roadways is also limited within mixed use, so it’s quite difficult.”

Coun. Haven Lurbiecki suggested that council may want to start looking at lot coverage or tree-retention standards for new developments. 

The draft strategy says there are opportunities to create more coverage from redevelopment projects in mixed-use areas like the Moody Centre TOD, which is one of the sparsest areas of the city.

But other areas will likely lose significant shade from development.

The OCP recognizes the city has limited greenfield land – meaning undeveloped and earmarked for construction – and that new developments will likely involve the complete removal of mature trees.

This will cause more replacement trees being transferred from private to public lands. Parks and open space already account for 69 percent of Port Moody’s tree canopy.

The Coronation Park neighbourhood currently has 24 percent coverage, but it will lose significant amounts of coverage to accommodate future development.

Coun. Samantha Agtarap proposed a motion for staff to report back on exceptional trees, permeable landscaping within new construction, tree canopy coverage targets or minimums for all zoning types; and that a more ambitious target than 16 percent for mixed-use zoning be set for the next draft iteration of the draft. It passed unanimously.

Coun. Diana Dilworth admitted the city has competing priorities when it comes to its tree canopy and development goals.

“We have a housing crisis we’re trying to meet and an environmental desire to preserve and enhance as much as we can,” Dilworth said.

She suggested the public engagement for the strategy, which is slated to start in May, should also open a dialogue with developers in the community.

By Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 24, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Tri-Cities Dispatch   Coquitlam, British Columbia

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