In 2005, the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Strategic Plan (Our Common Grounds) first articulated the goal of increasing Toronto’s tree canopy from approximately 17-20% to between 30-40% over the next 50 years. The Plan also recommended a number of specific measures, including an increase in annual tree planting, to protect and enhance the urban forest. At the time, the recommendations were made using best available information but also highlighted the need for a city-wide forest inventory and tree canopy study.
In collaboration with the USDA Forest Service and Spatial Analysis Laboratory at the University of Vermont, Toronto Urban Forestry has taken advantage of sophisticated modeling and remote sensing tools to paint a more detailed picture of Toronto’s urban forest. The resulting study report includes the following key findings:
- Toronto has an estimated 20% tree canopy cover
- Tree cover decreased slightly (up to -0.7%) between 1999-2005
- Between 2004-2009, the City and its partners planted almost 0.5 million trees
- There are at least 116 different tree species in the City
- Maple species account for approximately 1/3 of the total leaf area of the urban forest
- 60% of trees in the City are located on private property, 34% are in City parks and natural areas and 6% are in City road allowances
- Land use affects both quantity and quality of the urban forest
- The urban forest provides the equivalent of more than $60 million dollars in ecological services each year, including benefits from energy savings and emissions reductions, air quality improvements and carbon storage and sequestration
- The structural value of Toronto’s urban forest is estimated at $7 billion
The results show that Toronto supports a reasonably healthy and diverse urban forest. Volunteer interest in planting and stewardship is up and new policies and construction standards are improving the lifespan of street trees. Funding to forestry programs has also increased the protection, maintenance and planting of trees on City property.
On the other hand, the City’s Official Plan details the intense growth pressure facing Toronto. Other factors that will impact the urban forest in the coming decades include climate change, invasive insect pests and disease and increased use pressure on the City’s green spaces.
These study results will help both citizens and planners better understand the incredible value of this complex resource. Most importantly it will assist our understanding of how to sustain and enhance the urban forest as the City of Toronto continues to grow.
Every Tree Counts: A Portrait of Toronto's Urban Forest