Lindsay Taylor, CERPIT & Sustainability Director for the St. Catharines Downtown Association (SCDA) and Sean Parkinson, Urban Forest Researcher & Niagara Region Wastewater Operator recently attended the International Association for Great Lakes Research 2023 conference in Toronto, Ontario. While most presentations centred on water science research, the SCDA introduced a unique land-water connection, branching off of existing conservations about natural asset management. The SCDA’s call-to-action for urban forest management included the creation of a Standardised Inventorying Methodology across Ontario, and the reclassification of urban street trees as natural assets in alignment with the 2024 Asset Management Policy Review. By growing relationships with key stakeholders, such as the City of St. Catharines, the Niagara Region, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and the Ministry of the Environment, we can make greening initiatives such as these a reality in our downtown core.
Lessons from IAGLR
In some watersheds, this conversation of natural asset management is already being prioritised. Conservation Halton gave a presentation on asset management for all natural infrastructure including wetlands and trees, referencing Green Infrastructure Ontario’s initiatives to reclassify assets and fund infrastructure management.
Following our presentation, members of the conference brought up the following conversations:
- Increasing community Involvement with Urban Forestry Management: historically, all environmental stewardship began with community-driven movements concerning ecosystem health, preservation, and restoration. Urban Forestry Management, including inventorying, education, and policy/legislative changes, are often propelled by community support. While community involvement acts as the heart of this research and advocacy, we urge for top-down action from our government that will ensure our natural assets are effectively managed, protected, and grown.
- The uniqueness of Urban Ecology: urban environments are characterised by sealed & compacted soils, high salt from de-icing, limited water infiltration, pollutants such as hydrocarbons, and physical barriers such as utilities, buildings, and walkways. Installing and maintaining urban trees requires careful planning and consideration of biodiversity, accessibility, and health & safety. When trees are showing signs of damage, decay or disease they can become classified as hazard trees for their potential to become a risk to community members. While in natural environments a hazard tree might be left as habitat or to decompose and contribute to the nutrient cycle, in urban contexts proximity to human activity and infrastructure requires alternate consideration.