The City of Toronto is often referred to as a concrete jungle, but not often thought of as an actual forest ecosystem. As the biggest city in Canada, it may seem a strange place for someone who loves forests to live. The truth is, most of southern Ontario’s landscape can be classified as urban or sub-urban, and yet trees have far from disappeared from the landscape. Even though there are lots of trees in the city, the urban forest needs a lot of help to survive, because life on the streets is tough for anybody.
You’re probably already aware of the many benefits forests provide, like sequestering CO2 and mediating the water cycle (oh and providing the oxygen we breathe), but trees in urban environments have been shown to help us so much more. They help to regulate wacky urban temperature extremes by providing shade and blocking wind. They also buffer noise and improve our psychological well being. Trees in our city are providing us so many services, and saving us a lot of dough. A couple years ago TD bank estimated Toronto’s trees are worth about $7 billion. Beyond the benefits we receive from trees, they are also a cornerstone of a larger forest ecosystem, providing obvious and reliable habitat and food sources for insects, fungi, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, birds, and fish that also call the city home.
Urban forests are under some of the most intense pressures. Concrete, street salt, heat stress, drought, flooding, and abuse from humans all cause serious strain on trees in cities. On top of these, the highly fragmented nature of the urban forest, and the fact that the trees are already living in stressful conditions, means they are more susceptible to pests and diseases. Dutch Elm Disease and the Emerald Ash Borer, are two examples of pests that have caused immense damage to Ontario’s urban forests. All of these stresses lead to a very high mortality rate for trees in urban environments. Successfully managing and growing our urban forest involves a great deal of planning and investment, but it is becoming clear to cities around the world that urban forests are a worthy investment.
Some Do’s and Don’ts to help the urban forest
If you’re interested in learning more about the tree species in your town, most cities have tree advocacy and education groups. If you live in Toronto, I highly suggest doing a self-guided tree tour from Canadian Tree Tours (http://www.canadiantreetours.org/), or participating in a guided tree tour with LEAF (http://www.yourleaf.org/).
Written by Jackie Hamilton