Planting the seed to protect Orillia’s cherished urban canopy

The best time to plant a tree is 40 years ago.

It’s a well-worn line that is bound to elicit a knowing chuckle from those tasked with ensuring a healthy abundance of this cherished natural resource.

For Michael Williams, it also points to a harder truth about the vital importance of protecting a city’s urban canopy through long-term planning.

“Some of the big beautiful ones that are out there, when you explain to your child or grandchild the age of that tree and how long it’s been around, I think it just brings a sense of wonderment, ” said the chair of Orillia’s environmental advisory committee.

The importance of planning — make that planting — is becoming increasingly apparent as the municipality comes to terms with the knowledge that a number of the mature trees that shade the streets and lend the city its bucolic charm are either dead or dying.

In partnership with the municipality, Williams and other volunteers are digging to the root of the issue as they work to determine how many of the stately specimens are at risk and how best to respond.

Residents who know of dead or dying trees will also be encouraged to contact the city once the project is underway, he said.

“Our hope is that we will get a lot of engagement,” Williams said, adding the effort will initially concentrate on public areas such as boulevards.

Trees have numerous environmental benefits and contribute substantially to the character of the community, agrees parks manager John McMullen.

In the same breath, McMullen stressed that planting trees along streets in a manner that achieves the characteristic canopy effect poses challenges due to space restrictions imposed by sidewalks and public utilities.

“A fair bit of forethought does need to go in to it, so that you don’t destroy what you’re trying to do there,” he said, adding the effects of road salt and sand on certain species must also be taken into consideration.

Beyond their esthetic appeal, trees provide substantial benefit to the local ecosystem, reducing soil erosion, cooling the air, and helping offset the greenhouse effect by storing carbon.

However, many local neighbourhoods are home to a larger number of overmature street trees, Williams said.

Ideally, replacements should already have been planted alongside these aging specimens, to ensure young stock is there to fill the eventual void.

To that end, the group has secured council support for a project that will identify dying and aging trees in neighbourhoods and on select streets for replacement, with an emphasis on areas where tree cover is jeopardized.

“They’ll be smaller, of course, and take years to grow,” Williams said.

A separate but related effort will explore potential long-term projects that include a focus on “urban corridor cover” — lining major roads with shallow-rooted trees to improve streetscapes.

In the fall the group will review a soon-to-expire rebate program that provides residents with up to $50 for the purchase of specific tree species, with recommendations to follow.

Daniel Boucher — Barrie Ward 4

My Name is Daniel Boucher, and I’m seeking your confidence in Ward 4. My life in Barrie began almost three years ago, when I met the most patient, caring and beautiful woman, whom I married just this summer in our backyard, absorbing our four children into a large, chaotic (at times) and immensely energetic family. My kids (ranging from four to eight) have tremendous impact on our views of family oriented community programming and activities. School volunteer opportunities, coaching sports and shift work consistently keep us busy.

My life as a public servant began in 2004 when I joined the Canadian Forces Reserves as a medic. I successfully challenged the Ministry of Health, AEMCA testing, certifying as a primary care paramedic following college. In 2009, I proudly donned Canada Border Services Agency blue fatigues and started a very rewarding career in law enforcement, also serving as chief union steward. I continue to serve you federally, with honour, having received numerous accolades. My work experience is extremely varied, working industrial construction, fraud restoration and even as a baker for numerous years in my youth, among other things.

My vision in regards to council is solely dependent on you. I believe in true democracy, where the quorum of the populace drives the voice of their elected representatives. My intentions are to represent the ward with ethically influenced canvassing, perpetual communication with constituents seeking feedback and ideas, and business-driving initiatives for the city that will see an increase in jobs, efficient service delivery and economic prosperity. I don’t see value in our city maintaining a deplorable unemployment rate, deficient trade skills programs for our youth and a downtown core that lacks investment into mental health, addiction and community based policing. Conversely, I’d like to see massive provincial contributions to our highway infrastructure and bypasses, keeping up-to-date with population growth, industry projections and seasonal traffic demands.

I’m Daniel Boucher, your new neighbour, a new voice for change!

Campaign office/home: 61 Barwick Dr., Barrie, Ont.