Selkirk’s asset management program is taking root in all areas of the city and most recently has branched outdoors to include Selkirk’s urban forests.
The city is taking part in a pilot project with the Province of Manitoba to create a Selkirk tree inventory and Ruth Rolfe, Manager of Parks and Recreational Facilities, says it’s the first step in understanding the types and conditions of trees we already have, make future decisions on tree replacement and maintenance and be proactive in disease control.
“We’ve been really forward thinking with our asset management program in Selkirk and trees are a huge asset,” Rolfe said.
“We’re partnering with the province, we’re able to use their expertise and we’ve got our staff out now, gathering data that will give us a better handle on our trees and our urban forest and will become part of our tree policy.”
Selkirk already partners with the Province of Manitoba for the Dutch Elm Disease (DED) program, which sees provincial staff identifying infected trees for removal each year and it was this program that led to the tree inventory pilot in the city.
Investing in trees is investing in our community
A tree inventory aligns with Selkirk’s Strategic Plan, which calls for a vibrant, safe and healthy community and for the city to develop its natural features and outdoor spaces. It also calls for more active management of capital assets and for the city to protect natural features and resources.
Justin Torcia is a certified arborist and the city’s tree inventory project leader.
Since May, Torcia and his team of green T-shirt clad tree inspectors, have been systematically creating a database that tells the story of the city’s trees – from where they are located, to what type they are and much, much more.
They’ve divided the city into seven sections and are working from south to north, using handheld GPS receivers to determine locations that are accurate to within one metre.
Besides location they input data on the type of tree, what condition it’s in, its diameter at breast height, or DBH, whether there are pests on the tree and if it has sustained injury from either mechanical or natural causes, all of which help to determine the value of the tree as a city asset. The information aids the city at budget time as well, helping council and administration be more informed on where funds should be directed.
More than just a pretty sight
“Trees are so important,” said Torcia, who is more equipped than most to espouse the value of trees to our world and he’s more than happy to do so.
“Trees sequester carbon that we emit, so they’re helping to clean the air, purify the air. They’re giving off oxygen for us, fresh, clean oxygen for us to breathe,” he said.
“Trees that are planted close to buildings give shade for those buildings, so your air conditioning system’s not going to have to work that hard, they’re going to help with storm water that’s run off, they’re going to absorb that water so we’re not having so much storm water collect in our catch basins.”
Selkirk CAO Duane Nicol said in addition to being aligned with the strategic plan and the city’s asset management program, the tree inventory project was identified as a priority in the city’s award winning Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.
“Managing and growing our urban forest is a vital part of our climate change adaptation efforts,” Nicol said.
“Not only do trees cost-effectively help to manage storm water, but they help to reduce the heat island effect and they provide habitat for at risk bird species.”
Being proactive before potential diseases spread
The DED crisis is sadly a perfect example of why a tree inventory is crucial for any city.
“A tree inventory helps when you have things like Dutch Elm Disease or Emerald Ash Borer or different diseases that come up. With a tree inventory in Selkirk, we would know the exact number of trees of that specific type of tree in a specific area,” Rolfe said.
“We could be proactive, because we are losing so many trees to Dutch Elm.”
Rolfe said city residents have a deep attachment to their trees and news that something like DED has attacked their tree is devastating.
“I’ve had people who’ve had trees in their yard for a hundred years, they’re actually in tears with me, and we have to talk about and explain the disease,” Rolfe said.
“People are really, really attached to their trees.”
Tree disease is also a financial drain, with Rolfe estimating DED in Manitoba has cost in the millions of dollars in identification and removal of infected trees.
Emerald Ash Borer is the latest threat to the province’s canopy and though Torcia says it hasn’t been identified in Selkirk yet, it is in Manitoba and has the ability to affect the city greatly.
“We’re seeing a lot of green ash in Selkirk, so there’s a potential for us to lose a lot of trees in the future,” he said.
First steps towards a forestry plan
Though having a tree inventory can’t stop or cure things like DED or Emerald Ash Borer, Rolfe said it can inform the city and enable council and staff to make better decisions. With climate change, the threat of new invasive species is growing.
“If we can work towards managing what we have as assets and then eventually work towards an urban forestry plan where we decide what can be replanted that would be a better species that might resist disease, those are some of the high visionary things that we’ll work towards,” Rolfe said.
The city is pleased to be taking a lead role in the management of natural assets and hopes to create a detailed plan that can benefit other communities.
“The more data we can gather and pass on to the next community is going to be all that much more help for them,” Rolfe said.