Small Mammals Can Make a Difference
Last spring, a concerned citizen approached the LEAF table I was manning to talk to me about the newly planted trees along St. Clair Avenue West. She wanted to complain that the new trees—added to the streetscape as part of the Transit Improvement Project—had been planted incorrectly. I wasn’t sure how I could confirm this, but decided to have a look anyway. Riding my bike the two blocks, I discovered something far more shocking. Of the 54 London planetrees that had been recently planted on St. Clair Avenue West between Vaughn Road and Winona Avenue, 28 were either completely or nearly dead. Their trunks had imploded in the cold weather the winter before. Of the 26 that were still alive, many were under severe stress and were showing signs of decline.
I am only a small mammal. What could I do?
Just a couple of weeks previous, I had taken a NeighbourWoods Tree Training course being offered in Leslieville. This course trained me to recognize stressed trees and suggested ways to gather useful statistics that indicate a tree is stressed. The speakers also offered recommendations on how to make some basic analytical conclusions based on the results.
Here is a single sheet, with a legend, showing how I tracked the statistics.
If the tree was dead, that was all I tracked. However, if it was alive, I wanted to give clear signals that it was stressed by identifying the condition of the trunk, branches, foliage and overall canopy. For example, I noted that some trees had no room to grow and had been planted too close to buildings, hydro lines and even other trees. I noted when tree roots were too restricted. Another volunteer at LEAF helped me by taking several photographs of how businesses were causing stress by hanging things like lights, banners and balloons in the branches.
Based on the findings, the audit made several key recommendations that should prevent a similar occurrence when the dead trees are replaced. Working with the LEAF staff, we analyzed the statistics collected into meaningful graphs so everyone could understand immediately what was happening in our community. LEAF then submitted my report to the City of Toronto and to my local city councillor, both of whom took the report seriously.
Meanwhile, I contacted my city councillor’s office. They informed me that the trees are under warranty and must be maintained and healthy throughout that period; otherwise, the contractor must replace the trees. Since the dead trees would have to be replaced, I spent some time making my councillor aware of the mistakes made in the previous planting. For instance, we discussed the need for biodiversity, since virtually every tree planted had been a London planetree. We also talked about the timing. The trees had imploded because they were planted too late in the season: fluid contained in the trunk (possibly from being watered when they were planted) had frozen too quickly for the trunk to accomodate it.
My next step will be to work with the BIA in the area and educate businesses on the advantages to having trees along the street, what stresses the current trees are facing, and how we as a community can reduce the stresses and nurture our canopy to maturity. That way, we can all enjoy the benefits together.
I have uploaded the report, if you are interested in seeing the results.