Our Troubled Urban Forest


On August 8, Collingwood council will “consider” a proposal to spend “up to $100,000 to retain a consultant to inform the next council on how Collingwood can better protect [our] tree canopy,” according to a story in CollingwoodToday. The article says, “With Collingwood’s population rapidly increasing, the town is behind when it comes to its policies around [our] tree canopy.”

(This is an expanded version of a post I put on my Campaign for Council website)

Given how poorly the town maintains those few trees it does plant, it’s not surprising: there are dead trees in the Second Street dog park, dead trees along the Third Street boulevard, dead trees along Heritage Drive… all planted by the town then abandoned in the hottest summers when they should have been watered and fertilized. The CollingwoodToday story adds,

Staff will also be asking councillors to approve an additional $75,000 tree maintenance and removal in 2022, to be taken from the operating contingency fund reserve.

I didn’t see anything about requesting money to plant replacement trees. We seem to cut down more trees in this community than we plant. Maybe we can save $100,000 by simply planting trees when we cut them down.

Back when I was last on council, I worked with staff to develop a draft tree bylaw and policies to protect and maintain our urban forest, with specific policies to protect boulevard trees (which are on town property), and to plant a tree somewhere in the community whenever the town was required to cut one down. Unfortunately, when I was not re-elected, the initiative died the following term.

Now our current council is contemplating hiring another consultant; wasting $100,000 of taxpayers’ money to do what we elected our council to do: come up with ideas and direction to meet the community’s needs. Our current council would prefer spending our tax dollars on an outsider rather than thinking and coming up with ideas themselves. Hardly surprising: just another example of their lack of initiative and effort.

I expect we could buy and plant a lot of trees with $100,000. Wouldn’t that be a better idea instead of paying someone to tell us to buy and plant a lot of trees? And, of course, maintain them after planting. We have the staff and resources to do that, but seem to lack the political will to make it a policy.

And this comes not very long after this council paid other consultants to come up with thoughts and advice on our urban trees. In 2020, consultants analyzed the town’s trees and residents’ views about them. A story about it in CollingwoodToday noted, 

The highest priority recommendations aim to change the town’s reactive approach to the urban forest to one that is proactive, and that includes establishing a forestry unit and hiring a forester. Consultants recommend developing policies and bylaws such as a private tree management strategy and two tree preservation bylaws, one for private woodlands and one for private trees. Currently, the town’s bylaw covers both and the consultants called the document “broad” and difficult to enforce.
The plan also recommends the town add the “public tree” to its asset management strategy, recognizing a tree as “green infrastructure” that provides a public service just as a road or water line does.

The staff report and the plan presented to council are a hefty 154 pages long. That’s a lot of work for a group proven to be averse to reading. But I’m sure they got it in a PowerPoint presentation with small words and a big font.  

So what happened to those recommendations since then? And why do we need to hire more consultants to do it again this soon? After all, the first consultants’ plan was supposed to be for the years 2020-2030.

Didn’t anyone on council ask for a followup since the last consultants’ report? Didn’t anyone on council take the initiative to ask about it in the 18 months since? Or to bring forward a motion to craft new bylaws and policies?

Okay, I know asking any of them to act responsibly, as if they actually gave a shit about this community, is a stretch… but it’s almost like they didn’t pay attention the first time around (insert sarcasm emoji here).

Before we spend the money, why don’t councillors actually do some homework themselves? Do what they’re elected and paid to do? It’s not hard to go online and research what other communities have done to preserve and protect their urban forest. Or maybe ask what they expect to get from the second report they didn’t already get from the first.

It’s not difficult to pick up the phone and call other municipalities and ask to speak to someone about urban forest policies in, say, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, London, or Windsor.

It’s not difficult to consult the Green Municipal Fund Council and ask if they have resources our town can tap into. Or ask the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) if they have any policy papers, guides, or resources we might use (don’t we have a councillor on their board who should be doing that?). Or ask the Ontario Urban Forest Council for advice (they even have a Facebook page). Or ask the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition if they have anything to offer. Or ask the Ontario Professional Foresters’ Association (OPFA). Or Forests Ontario. I found all of these sites in just a few minutes of searching online.

And it didn’t cost me more than the cup of tea I consumed while surfing the web to get those links. Surely it’s not asking too much of them to ask just one of our council to do something similar. Yes, it would set a precedent, but surely at least one of the incumbents running again could pretend they cared…

But no, our council wants to hire a consultant to do it for them and spend $100,000 of your money to do what they should be doing themselves. Or what they paid to have done in 2020. But you and I know they were not elected for their initiative or wit. And therein lies another problem: council has devolved into a spineless body with no initiative; just a rubber stamp for staff ideas. We’re fortunate to have good staff, but we don’t elect a council to be this gormless. Council and staff should be a synergy, not a rubber stamp council.

In part, this lackadaisical behaviour came about because our current council handcuffed itself to a policy that won’t allow individuals at the table to talk to staff independently. Everything has to be channelled through the CAO, which creates a bureaucratic bottleneck and makes individual councillors feckless. But I digress…

We have a staff person In the PRC department whose job it is to look after our plants and trees in public spaces. Can’t we ask her to give us advice? Or ask her to research what we should do to build up the urban forest? To work with our bylaw and planning department and come up with policies and legislation to preserve and protect our trees? We have a nursery in town, and others in the region. Can’t we ask them for advice? We have a horticultural society whose members are dedicated to plants and maintaining the arboretum.

Can’t we ask any of them for advice before we spend $100,000?

Collingwood deserves better. Collingwood needs a new council, one that spends our money a lot more wisely; one where individuals actually think and show initiative. Vote for change in the October municipal election or face another four more years of ennui.

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  1. Michael Beaupre

    thanks for this Ian. Toronto could learn from you. Though the school boards in Toronto take care of their trees & green scapes, the city has few staff & whatever expertise on staff is ignored. As you said there are plenty of experts who would probably be glad to offer advise. Good luck with your campaign. I look for your election.

  2. megarryj

    Clearly this is work that could, and should be done by staff, not consultants! God knows they’ve added enough head count in the last 4 years — granted most of them in “touchy-feely” roles — not actual worker bee jobs. But still, Council totally letting staff off the hook on this subject, (and others), noting how many projects are way over budget and way late on delivery. It’s time to elect Councillors with some financial savvy and real world experience!

  3. Hans

    Bravo, While we are not living in or near Collingwood I can only applaud you to your reading of an obviously sad condition and your comments as well as references for possible solutions to same. We also wish you well in your quest to be back on council with a reasonable and urgent voice. Maybe you are able to talk some sense into some out of touch people.

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