The growing problem of not planting trees

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Suburban development… blocks are having the greenery stripped away to allow for maximum-sized apartments with some token greenery. Photo: Paul Costigan

“To get back to where we should have been with the number of trees, Canberra needs an injection of at least 40,000 trees,” writes Canberra Matters columnist PAUL COSTIGAN. 

THE ACT government has announced it will plant 17,000 trees over four years as part of an urban tree strategy.

Paul Costigan.

Has the Labor/Greens government finally realised it has responsibility for the stewardship of the bush capital?

Earlier this year the ACT Greens circulated a petition to get the government to plant more trees. While it was curious that the Greens who form the ACT’s Labor/Greens coalition were organising a petition to government (themselves?), some interesting statistics emerged about the city’s greenery.

With 768,000 trees being managed by the government, we have been losing about 3000 annually. Reports from 2012 show that there were more than 22,000 vacant tree sites with another dead or dying 17,000 to be removed. To get back to where we should have been with the number of trees, there needs to be an injection of at least 40,000 trees. Then there is the more worrying statistic that only 28 per cent of trees in the government’s care are suitable for the coming changes in climate.

Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur stated that the city needed to plant 7000 annually over a decade to restore the tree canopy across government sites, parks and streets.

These figures do not include the amount of greenery being removed on private land in the older suburbs due to redevelopment.

On top of this, the figures exclude the amount of greenery being lost every time this government sells off land for redevelopment. Anecdotally, the evidence is that older suburbs are seeing a loss of trees due to both private redevelopment and the government’s own sales that result in blocks having the greenery stripped away to allow for maximum-sized apartments with some token greenery.

As for newer suburbs, the general outcome has been large houses on small blocks with little greenery and loads of apartments with near to nothing in greenery. Serious heat islands are waiting to happen any year now.

The trouble being that so many decisions of the various portfolios have an impact on trees. It is not just City Services; there’s also Urban Development, Environment, Social Housing, Planning and the Chief Minister’s Economic portfolio – the last being responsible for the reduction in funds allocated to caring for and maintaining trees, public spaces, streets, parks and all forms of biodiversity.

A search of news items reveals that various important operatives within government have been making useless statements for years.

An example of the spin is the statement from Chris Steel, the “Minister for Various Things”, when he boasted that the government had planted 608 trees in the winter of 2018 with 96 more in spring. Then for 2018-2019, 444 more trees would be planted. Several ministers were heard to boast about this great leap forward (backwards?). All neglected to spell out how many had been removed over that time let alone allude to the annual target of 7000 new trees.

Let’s go back to that announcement that the government is to look at developing an urban-tree strategy. Did anyone check the filing cabinet?

After 30 years of self-government, surely someone else thought of this. But if not, get someone to urgently go online and cut and paste from the many excellent ones that cities across Australia have had in place for years.

Or if you want to pay someone a consultant fee, send me the money and I will write a simple one. The two key objectives will be: don’t chop down trees, and every development application, whether large, small, government or private, needs to state how the development will increase the tree canopy and add to the biodiversity of this city.

We are going backwards and it seems that the government is getting away with this latest “greenwash”. Do the Canberra Liberals or ACT Labor Party members have a view on these pathetic and misleading announcements?

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

 

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