Winnipeg sees second-largest drop in urban greenness in Canada

Winnipeg is seeing the second-largest drop in urban greenness in Canada, a worrying trend that advocates say all Winnipeggers will need to pitch in to change.

A recent Statistics Canada report on Canadian cities shows Winnipeg’s urban greenness dropped by more than 24 percentage points from 2018 to 2022, compared to the last measurement from 2000 to 2004.

The only other city that saw a greater drop was Milton, Ontario.

“The trend isn’t good,” said Martha Barwinsky, a forester for the City of Winnipeg.

She said while urban greenness includes all vegetation, Winnipeg’s sprawling tree canopy accounts for a large part of it.

“As Winnipeg, we identify as having the largest American Elm population in any urban center in North America,” she said.

But Winnipeg has been losing trees by the thousands.

From 2019 to 2021, Barwinsky said the city removed approximately 20,400 trees from boulevards and parks. Of those trees, only about 5,600 have been replaced.

“We know that we’ve been challenged with not just invasive pest management – ​​with Dutch elm disease and now the discovery of emerald ash borer and cottony ash psyllid – but we’ve also been challenged with weather events and climate change,” she said .

It’s a concerning, but not surprising outlook for Trees Winnipeg Executive Director Christian Cassidy.

“There’s nothing saying that the trend is slowing down. We’re still losing trees,” he told CTV News. “This is a trend that’s going to continue and it’s worrying.”

He said part of the issue in the loss of urban greenness has to do with urban development.

“In an older neighborhood, taking down three houses and putting up a condo block, you’re losing three backyards, maybe six or seven trees, and the condo block might end up with a decorative shrub outside the front door,” he said. “That’s all you’re getting, so that’s a loss of green space.”

Barwinsky said the city estimates it currently has over three million trees, but many of those are on private property which has a gap in replacing trees.

She said the city has set a target to reach a 24 per cent canopy cover by 2065. As of 2018, she said the city was at 17 per cent canopy cover – meaning to reach that goal, approximately 750,000 trees need to be planted across the City.

To change the trend and dig out of the hole Winnipeg is in, Cassidy said everyone has to get involved.

“It’s kind of an all hands on deck sort of situation,” he said. “When you’re talking about the city as a whole, most of the land is privately owned.

“It’s really something where people have to look at their own land, whether they be a business owner or homeowner, and see if they can somehow add green space and trees to their property.”

Barwinsky said programs like the Trees Winnipeg ReLeaf Planting Program are a good place to start for Winnipeggers looking to help change the trend.

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