A brief historical perspective of urban forests in Canada
In recent years, a greater amount of interest has been in expressed in urban forests – partly as a result of increasing urbanization but also due to new threats including the invasive insect, emerald ash borer. Urban forests in Canada have been dominated by three themes: superficial support by the provincial and federal governments, individuals’ commitment to developing urban forests of excellence, and awareness and action fueled by natural disaster.
Canada – the Urban People in a Forest Nation
The world looks to Canada as a forest leader – and with good reason. With 417.6 million hectares of forest (10 per cent of the world) Canada leads in many of the standard, industrial forestry measures: “timber-productive forest land”, “allowable annual cut”, “area burned by forest fire” and “area of certified forest”.
How disconcerting it can be to learn that well over 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities and towns — their connection to the forest coming not from national parks or “wilderness” but from their neighbourhood park, roadside trees and backyards. Within the forestry profession, “urban forests” are still regarded as a “specialty field”, possibly because of the depressing implication that trees are less seen as a “resource” and more as an entity to preserve and protect for solely environmental/social purposes.
Canadians’ identification with trees can be found everywhere. The maple leaf adorns Canada’s flag and shield. Many communities’ names proudly commemorate an arboreal connection: “Oakville”, “Pointe-au-chêne” and “Cedar”. Canadian urban forest advocacy groups: “Trees London”, “Green Here” and “SOVERDI” proclaiming the value of trees and bringing pockets of urban forest excellence into communities across the country. Canadian municipalities, universities and citizen groups continue to do very creative things in urban forest management, with many approaches borrowed from the United States and the European community.
The Starting Point: Urban Parks
The creation of a national, urban park system figured early in the thought process of the young Canada. The need to provide recreational opportunities to those living