What is the urban forest?

An urban forest includes all of the publicly and privately-owned trees and supporting vegetation in an urban area. This includes individual trees and groups of trees located in natural areas, parks, backyards, on streets, and in commercial and industrial zones. Other elements such as plants, water, soil, micro-organisms, and wildlife are also part of this forest community. Each of these elements, in addition to people and the built environment, have an influence on the health of the urban forest. Tree canopy cover, defined as land covered by tree crowns as viewed from the air, is how we measure the many benefits provided by the urban forest.

The illustrations show the many benefits of the urban forest canopy across a range of spaces found throughout New Westminster.

Click to enlarge

What is the role of the urban forest?

1. Health and well-being: Trees clean the air by capturing particulates and through absorption and adsorption of other pollutants. Research also supports that trees and greenspaces provide a broad range of benefits including reduced stress, improved attention span, faster recovery from surgery, higher levels of physical activity and community connectivity.

2. Environmental health: The urban forest provides habitat and contributes to urban biodiversity. Trees and vegetation intercept and clean stormwater before it reaches natural waterways.

3. Energy savings: Trees, and green infrastructure, when strategically placed can provide savings on heating and cooling costs for buildings.

4. Comfort/shade/microclimate: Trees provide comfort by moderating the climate at street level. Trees provide shade and evapo-transpirative cooling that gives people relief on hot summer days.

Click to enlarge

What is the status of the urban forest in New Westminster?

As of early 2014, New Westminster’s urban forest canopy cover stands at 18%. Relative to the North American average (27% forest canopy) and the recommended “best practice” (40% forest canopy), New Westminster has room for improvement. Perhaps more importantly, New Westminster’s urban forest canopy has been declining over the past two decades, highlighting the need to better manage the urban forest and protect the valuable functions it provides. 

The urban forest canopy coverage in the City of New Westminster has been in a state decline at a rate of 1.5% per year (that’s a 15% decline from 2004). Further analysis of canopy cover change since 2004 shows a slight increase in tree planting along streets with the vast majority of loss occurring on private lands (outside the public realm of streets, boulevards and parks). The urban forest management plan looks at how to best address this trend, implement best practices and provide a “roadmap” to help guide the City of New Westminster and its residents to protect, maintain and enhance the urban forest for the future.

Click to enlarge

If you are interested in the status of the urban forest in your neighbourhood click on the image below.

The strategy: From decline to reforestation

In 2014, the City of New Westminster began developing an Urban Forest Management Strategy to address further loss and increase urban forest canopy and the associated benefits it provides to everyone.  The Urban Forest Management Strategy is intended to be implemented over a 20 year time frame (2015 - 2035) and is based on inventory data and a review of policy and best management practices for urban forestry. The Strategy identifies a comprehensive set of 40 actions to reverse the current trend and increase the tree canopy cover from 18% to a target of 27% this equates to an additional 8,500 trees planted on public lands and 3,300 trees planted on private lands.

Click to enlarge

What can you do?

By protecting trees on your property you can help us grow New Westminster’s urban forest. Here are other ways you can help:

  • During hot, dry weather, assist us by watering boulevard trees. Twice a week, water the roots of trees near your property with 12–20 litres of water (5–10 minutes with a slow running water hose or a couple of large watering can full).
  • Comply with Open Fire Bans and Fire Danger Ratings and practice forest fire safety to protect our forests.
  • Keep aware of young, stressed trees adjacent to your property (usually indicated by leaves turning brown or falling).
  • Follow New Westminster’s Tree Protection and Regulation Bylaw if removing trees on private property. If you remove a tree, plant a new one where possible. Learn more about Tree Removal Permits, when they are issued, and how to apply.
  • Beyond the inventory data and an understanding of best management practices, the Urban Forest Management Strategy will be guided by community vision. The following vision statement was developed from feedback provided at the first Public Open House, and collaboration with municipal staff and Council’s Environment and Parks and Recreation Advisory Committees:

    New Westminster’s urban forest is a beautiful and beloved public resource, providing refuge, education and recreation within the City.

    Urban trees have been carefully planted, protected and maintained to clean the air, enhance habitat, capture carbon, manage stormwater and maximize benefits to our City’s environmental health and quality of life.

    Great planning and management has created a renowned urban experience of diverse, colourful and comfortable, well-treed streets and boulevards that connect with neighbourhood parks and natural areas.

    The City’s management policies include measurable objectives, priority actions and regulatory mechanisms, ensuring strategic, efficient and effective coordination between public and private partners.

    Homeowners and developers play an increasingly significant role in urban forest enhancement with protection and planning on private lands.

    Community members of all walks of life care for the urban forest as a shared priority and defining feature of what makes New Westminster such a great place to live.

  • Implementation of the strategy

    In January 2016, City Council approved the Urban Forest Management Strategy.

    Three overarching goals and nine key objectives emerged as part of the Strategy’s development and these form the future implementation of this plan:

    1. PROTECT New Westminster’s urban forest and its benefits to our community by:

    • Increasing canopy cover to 27% city-wide.
    • To protect the existing canopy cover.
    • Adapting the urban forest population to a changing climate.

    2. ENHANCE all aspects of the urban forest and its management within New Westminster by:

    • Updating policy, guidelines and best management practices to support urban forest enhancement.
    • Enhancing the tree care program by increasing resourcing and information management system capability.
    • Improving urban forest diversity by planting no more than 10% of any species, 20% of any genus and 30% of any family.
    • Improving environmental health by establishing goals for Environmentally Sensitive Areas and complementary naturescaping guidelines for adjacent lands.

    3. ENGAGE all community stakeholders involving issues related to urban forest management by:

    • Developing an urban forest stewardship program to build community ownership of the urban forest, and;
    • Working with departments internally to improve integration of trees and green infrastructure into integrated stormwater management, greenhouse gas and air quality management, and to improve long-term tree health outcomes.
  • Urban Forest Management Strategy Presentation

    By Diamond Head Consulting from the January 11, 2016 Council meeting