There’s an unseen war going on at insect level in Toronto. At stake is the fate of well over 800,000 trees – a huge part of the green canopy that covers much of the city outside of the downtown core. The emerald ash borer (EAB), a little green bug with a huge appetite, tunnels under the bark of ash trees, and the tree is no longer able to access water or nutrients. Add to this the fact that many of the East End’s larger trees are simply nearing the end of their lifespan, and it quickly becomes clear why a small but growing number of people are becoming heavily involved in preserving and enhancing the city’s tree canopy.
One of those people is Antony Upward, a resident in the Gerrard and Woodbine area. While researching with the intention of starting a tree stewardship group for his neighbourhood, he realized many of the organizations he was meeting with had not previously met each other. What came out of that realization is the upcoming Toronto Tree Share, Socialize, Seek (TTS3) event, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at the Toronto Naval Club at 1910 Gerrard St. E.
“As I went around to these other groups in the city, I realized what an incredible variety of stuff people have been doing over the past years, and I realized it wasn’t doing much good with just me learning about it, I wanted other people in the community to be learning about it as well,” he said.
Part of the inspiration for Upward’s passion for local trees came with the realization that his street, Devon Road, had lost four of its 10 mature trees over the past decade.
“We need to be very proactive about planting now, in order that we don’t end up with a period where the streets, even though the houses are 100 years old, the streets look like a new development,” he said. “Anybody who’s got an empty front garden really should be thinking about planting a tree on it, because those trees are going to be the ones that take us through the next hundred years.”
Another reason, although not quite as pressing in his own area as it is in other areas in the Beach, is the invasion of the EAB. He points out that residents may want to look into paying for preventative treatment of non-infested trees, as the cost of treatment is much lower than that of removing a dead tree.
“It’s obviously a significant issue, particularly when it costs anywhere between $4,000 and $6,000 to take down a mature tree in somebody’s back garden, which is not a small item for homeowners, when you can protect it for $200 to $400, depending on the size of the tree, every two years for about six or seven years,” he said.
There are countless reasons – and studies proving those reasons – why a healthy tree canopy is a positive asset for a neighbourhood. The City of Toronto’s Urban Forestry service says trees provide a multitude of social, economic and environmental benefits, as well as protecting the city’s natural heritage. Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) expand on the various environmental benefits, including air quality, reduction of storm runoff, wildlife habitat and noise reduction. The group also notes economic benefits, such as increase in property values, a serious potential reduction in air conditioning costs and a reduction in winter heating costs. Upward also mentions the natural social gathering spaces trees provide in parks and on the street.
The TTS3 meeting will invite representatives from a number of tree-related organizations to speak for about five minutes on what they do (the ‘share’ aspect), followed by an open socialization time. Anyone with any open invitations for collaboration, group organization or bulk purchases will then be welcome to make their pitch, or ‘seek’ partnerships.
Groups invited to the meeting include LEAF, Toronto Urban Forestry, tree-related citizen groups including the Harbord Village Residents’ Association’s ‘Treeing The Village’ project and the Leslieville Tree Project, and local East End groups including the Gerrard East Community Organization and the Danforth East Community Association. Upward is hoping that mixing citizen’s groups and city departments will lead to some measure of cooperation between residents and the city.
“How could the citizens help the Forestry Department without being a pain, where we could both end up being winners?,” he asked.
At the end of the meeting, he’s hoping that not only will many tree advocates have found new partners and inspiration, but that some of his own neighbours – within the Gerrard-Woodbine Neighbourhood Association’s boundaries – will be ready to step forward and join a fledgling ‘tree team’.
“The area’s going to look very different in 20 years if we don’t start planting soon,” said Upward.
To register for TTS3, visit tts3.eventbrite.ca. For information on having the city plant a tree in your front yard, visit toronto.ca/trees/tree_planting.htm; for subsidized native tree planting in your back yard, visit LEAF’s website at yourleaf.org/toronto.