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Urban Forestry

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Professional Foresters help municipalities inventory and manage their urban trees and forests so as to reduce damage to human infrastructure or spread of invasive species and other damaging agents while enabling the maintenance of ecological services such as urban biodiversity and shade, beauty and privacy.

Urban forestry is a specialized field within the forestry profession. It is increasing in its significance partly as a result of the increasing urbanization of global, Canadian (and Ontarian) society and partly because of the decline of the “traditional”, industrial forestry sector.

Jorgensen[1] defined the term urban forestry in 1974 as “… a specialized branch of forestry and has as its objectives the cultivation and management of trees for their present and potential contribution to the physiological, sociological and economic well-being of urban[2] society. These contributions include the over-all ameliorating effect of trees on their environment, as well as their recreational and general amenity value.”

Deneke[3] expanded on the term: “Urban forestry is the sustained planning, planting, protection, maintenance, and care of trees, forests, greenspace and related resources in and around cities and communities for economic, environmental, social, and public health benefits for people. The definition includes retaining trees and forest cover as urban populations expand into surrounding rural areas and restoring critical parts of the urban environment after construction. Expansion at the urban/rural interface raises environmental and public health and safety concerns, as well as opportunities to create educational and environmental links between urban people and nature. In addition, urban and community forestry includes the development of citizen involvement and support for investments in long-term on-going tree planting, protection, and care programs.”

From Deneke, we could define the urban forest as: trees, forests, greenspace and related abiotic, biotic and cultural components in and around cities and communities. It includes trees, forest cover and related components in the surrounding rural areas (peri-urban forests).

The Professional Foresters Act 2000 defines urban forests as “…tree-dominated vegetation and related features found within an urban area and includes woodlots, plantations, shade trees, and fields in various stages of succession, wetland and riparian areas”.

Over the years, many other definitions have been proposed, however they all recognize that the urban forest does not stop at the city limits. Urban forestry embraces the management of trees as well as the associated biotic and abiotic components in small communities and the interstitial areas between. If the traditional view of “forestry” focuses on the sustained production of forest products and ecological services in a wildland context, then urban “forestry” focuses on the provision of a wide array of economic, environmental and social services to “urban” society and to the broader environment.

Urban Foresters: Where they work and what they do

At present, urban foresters in Ontario are employed in:

  • Upper and lower tier municipalities
  • The arboricultural industry
  • Consulting companies working for municipalities, private citizens or groups, the development industry, government agencies, NGOs, insurance agencies, legal firms, etc.
  • Provincial government agencies
  • “Conservation Authorities” in Ontario or other quasi-governmental watershed-based conservation agencies in other provinces
  • Educational institutions
  • Research facilities
  • Independent utility corporations
  • Not-for-profit organizations

In these venues, urban foresters fulfill a broad range of duties including, but not limited to the following:

  • Development and implementation of urban forest management plans at the municipal or property level
  • Planning and implementing of arboricultural activities (including but not limited to: planting, pruning, plant health care, tree protection during construction, and hazard assessment and abatement).
  • Reviewing and commenting on development plans vis a vis the urban forest, including:site plans, secondary plans, plans of subdivision as well as components of municipal Official Plans and applications for amendments. The urban forester’s chief role here is the assurance that due consideration is given to the protection and enhancement of the community’s green infrastructure and the ecological, social and economic benefits it provides.
  • Public Education including formal educational activities as well as day-to-day communications such as answering questions from the general public, other professionals, politicians, the media, etc. By definition, urban foresters are working in the inhabited landscape and therefore, “people issues” are much more prevalent than in the context of industrial or conventional forestry practice.
  • Administration of tree and forest/woodland conservation by-laws and related policies.
  • Liaison with other agencies and professions that have any influence on, or are influenced by, the urban forest.
  • Providing expert opinion to municipal council, individuals and community groups, corporations, the courts, insurance industry, the media, the Ontario Municipal Board, etc.
  • The planning and management of “conventional” forestry activities (silviculture, harvesting, watershed management, fire management, wildlife management, etc.) in forests and woodlots in and near urban settlement. In some cases these activities would be indistinguishable from those taking place in wild-land forests. However, in other areas their location could result in the need for special considerations vis a vis municipal policy, interaction with urban residents and/or the development industry.
  • Liaising with the private sector in engaging them in stewardship activities and in funding urban forestry operations

The following items may be of interest to you in the discussion of urban forestry:

  1. A YouTube lecture called ‘Why Trees.’ It discusses the basic reasons of why trees are important.
  2. A segment from CBC’s Sunday Edition on ‘Why we Need Urban Forests.’

[1]Jorgensen, E. 1974. Towards an urban forestry concept. Proceedings of the 10th Commonwealth Forestry Conference. Ottawa, Canada; Forestry Service.

[2]According to Statistics Canada “An urban area (UA) has a minimum population concentration of 1,000 persons and a population density of at least 400 persons per square kilometre, based on the current census population count. All territory outside urban areas is classified as rural. Taken together, urban and rural areas cover all of Canada.”

[3] Deneke, F. 1993. Urban Forestry in North America: Towards a Global Ecosystem Perspective. pp 4-8. IN Blouin, G. and Comeau, R. [eds.] Proceedings of the First Canadian Urban Forests Conference May 30- June 2, 1993. Winnipeg MB. 151 pp.