City targets 2030 for two million new trees

· The Pulse

The City of Edmonton says it will plant two million new trees by 2030, at a cost of about $114 million.

The original goal set out in the City Plan was to add two million net trees by 2050. But the city also has a goal to reach total canopy coverage of 20% by 2071, as outlined in the Urban Forest Asset Management Plan.

"Based on modeling done to date, the canopy coverage target will be greatly supported by accelerating the planting of two million net new trees by 2030," the City of Edmonton said in an email to Taproot. "This will allow time for those trees' canopy to grow, and combined with continued tree planting past 2030, sets us on our way towards the 20% canopy coverage target."

The $114 million will be a mix of city and federal dollars, the city said. Of that, $66 million is held in abeyance, and about $48 million is expected from grants offered through Canada's 2 Billion Trees program. The funds held in abeyance will be released upon the successful disbursement of the federal funds, indicates the capital profile report in the 2023-2026 budget.

This does not come with additional expenditure beyond what was decided in the city's current four-year budget. "Because the cost of establishment is built into this capital project, no additional operating dollars are required from 2023-2026 for this work," the city said. "Through the City's budget process, operating impacts of capital are calculated and will be applied in future budget cycles."

The cost of planting trees came up in December during capital budget deliberations when Coun. Jennifer Rice moved to reduce funding for tree-planting. Her motion was defeated, but the debate raised questions about how much it is going to cost to meet the City Plan's tree-planting goals.

The price per tree tends to vary between $23 and $1,700, depending on the type and age of a tree, where it's planted, and whether it is planted by city staff, volunteers, or contractors. Trees planted in "hardscape" areas like sidewalks and parking lots can cost $17,000 or more, due to design and construction expenditures for underground structures and navigation around utility systems.

The ecosystem benefits of Edmonton's current urban forest are valued at $176 million, says the capital profile report, and the two-million-trees project is expected to increase those benefits by about 15% as the trees mature. Increasing the size of Edmonton's urban forest is also integral to meeting the goals of the Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Strategy and the Community Energy Transition Strategy, among other plans.

A bike lane is shown on a residential street lined with parked cars, trees and houses.

The decision to bump up the deadline for two million trees from 2050 to 2030 is partly based on a separate goal for Edmonton to reach 20% canopy coverage by 2071. (Mack Male/Flickr)

The overall price tag includes the continuation and expansion of the Root for Trees volunteer tree-planting program.

"As much as possible, the City of Edmonton is leveraging partnerships, grants, and volunteer programs to help with the costs of meeting the City Plan two million tree planting target," the city's statement read, noting that trees are added "through a combination of open space and boulevard tree planting, as well as planting native species in naturalization areas."

Trees offer myriad benefits to Edmontonians, the statement added, citing the targets set out in the City Plan's "Greener As We Grow" section.

"Reaching the targets … will provide nature-based solutions to improve air and water quality, reduce the heat-island effect, mitigate flood risks, increase wildlife and pollinator habitat, increase property value and energy savings, add to traffic-calming and noise reduction, support beautification and tourism, and capture carbon and combat the impacts caused by climate change."

The city estimates the total asset value of its current tree inventory at $2.7 billion. That breaks down to $1.59 billion for maintained trees, $1 billion for naturally wooded areas, and $723 million for naturalization areas.

"Trees are one of the only assets that increase in value over time," it added.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice a repeated use of the term "net" when describing how many trees the city will plant. That's because the plan must account for trees lost over time, like the 220 planned for removal at Hawrelak Park as part of the city's renovation efforts.

"The City's Urban Forest Asset Management Plan indicates that an average of 3,100 maintained trees could be lost per year. This is due to a variety of circumstances including trees reaching the end of their mature life, damage caused by weather events and prolonged droughts or removals to accommodate development as well as other circumstances. The City has developed a tree protection policy for trees on public property in order to mitigate these risks," the city said.

The requested federal funds of $48 million have yet to be granted. Whether the city will need to revise its plans for the project depends on the result of the grant request.