Mayor Lisa Helps is calling on other mayors in the Greater Victoria region to join Victoria in a global tree planting program.
“I see no reason why every mayor in the Capital region doesn’t also commit to planting trees,” said Helps in an interview from New York City, where Saturday she had participated in the program’s launch hosted by U.N. Executive Secretary, Under-Secretary-General Olga Algayerova.
Victoria pledged to plant 5,000 trees by the end of 2020 under the United Nations Trees in Cities Challenge designed to fight climate change among other goals.
“Each city across the world gets to determine its pledged number, so it is not that every mayor has to match,” she said. “May be it will be a challenge [and] it would be amazing if [municipal governments] across [Greater Victoria] took up the challenge.” One possible goal for the entire region could be 100,000 trees, she added later. “My hope is that on southern Vancouver Island, and may be even on Vancouver Island, we can make a significant contribution to the [program].”
Helps said Victoria’s participation in the program as the first Canadian city sends two signals. “I think the message that it sends is that small cities can make a difference on a global scale,” she said, adding that it is not clear why the under-secretary general had sent out a personal invitation for Victoria to participate. “But I think we can be proud of the city that we are catching global attention for some of our urban forest practices.”
More importantly, it sends the signals that individuals can do their respective part in the fight against climate change through the simple act of planting trees.
According to Victoria’s Urban Forest Master Plan, the municipality currently manages 40,000 trees within its parks and boulevards, so the initiative would increase the current total by 12.5 per cent. “I think 5,000 is a good start,” said Helps, adding that she would like to see it doubled by the end 2020. “But that is really going to take all of us working together to make it happen.”
Ten per cent of the trees will be on public property, with the rest on private property. Helps said it is not clear yet how the program will work with staff currently looking at a number of options.
“We haven’t worked out all of the logistics,” she said. “The United Nations also hasn’t worked out all of the logistics. The under-secretary general just wanted to get this announcement out at this conference, but we will be working closely with the United Nations to determine how it will work, how it will be tracked, all of those things.”
One of the uncertain aspects is the program’s cost. “That [cost] has not been determined yet,” she said in noting that city budgets about $1 million for its urban forest. “It will be absorbed in that cost. But the cost is really insignificant in terms of what the benefits will be for the city as a whole.”
Outside funding sources might also be available, she added later.
Helps said the benefits will be numerous in pointing to a number of studies that have looked at the effects of planting trees or “There is the fact that trees absorb pollution,” she said. “Trees are good for stormwater run-off. Trees are good for increasing property values. Trees are good for mitigating the heat impact of cities. Even in Victoria, we are seeing hot summers than they we have in the past, and finally, trees for good for mental health and well-being.”