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Saanich leads region in tree canopy loss

While aerial maps on Google are a fun tool to use to explore a city from above, the Habitat Acquisition Trust is using aerial photos to highlight a rapidly growing problem in Greater Victoria.

Between 2005 and 2011, Greater Victoria lost 1,037 hectares worth of tree canopy – enough mature trees to cover every square inch of the Town of Sidney twice.

“It’s just stunning to think about the pace at which it happening,” Adam Taylor, HAT’s executive director, sai. “It appears like our tree loss is increasing in speed over the course of these years.”

HAT pored over aerial photos of Greater Victoria taken in 1986, 2005 and 2011 with a fine-tooth comb to measure tree loss. Taylor says while he expected to see big changes between 1986 and 2005, he was shocked by the drastic loss in the six years from 2005 to 2011.

“Some of the areas suffered a nine per cent loss of total tree cover in just six years. This trend can’t continue forever – we’ll literally run out of trees  in 50 years,” he said.

HAT singled out Saanich as being the municipality that saw some of the biggest changes.

Between 2005 and 2011, Saanich lost 378 hectares of tree cover, and simultaneously gained 532.8 hectares of impervious surfaces like roads and buildings. Langford came in second, losing 118 hectares of tree cover.

“It’s not just a Saanich issue, it’s not just a Langford issue. Ultimately trees don’t care much about municipal boundaries. They’re all part of watersheds that start higher up. The trees higher up in those municipalities will have impacts in the municipalities below them, so we need to be engaging in this at a regional level,” Taylor said.

He credited Saanich and Victoria for each passing ambitious urban forestry strategies in recent years in an effort to curb tree loss.

Saanich is also currently going through a public process to update its tree preservation bylaw to protect more trees and enhance the urban forest.

“We know we’re losing tree canopy on private, public, rural and urban lands. We’re losing a percentage across the board inside and outside the urban containment boundary,” said Cory Manton, Saanich’s manager of urban forestry, horticulture and natural areas. “It reinforces the proposed amendments to the tree preservation bylaw so we can stop or reverse this trend.”

Taylor hopes other municipalities will follow Saanich and Victoria’s leads.

“They need to think how they can protect tree cover and grow trees in areas that are currently untreed,” he said. “And the vast majority of trees in our region occur on private properties.

“I hope we begin to realize trees have a value to our community and to our own property. Trees do need to come down for various reasons, but we need to look at our backyards and plant more to steward our landscape as private landowners.”

For more information on the tree canopy study or to see the aerial photos, visit hat.bc.ca.

kslavin@saanichnews.com

 

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