Many Canadians may not know that September 27th marks National Tree Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the importance of trees and green spaces in Canada. As a country whose emblems are a leaf and a beaver, and whose historic industries have always been centred on natural resources, Canada’s forests are an integral part of our national identity. Now that 80 per cent of Canadians live in what we call the urban forest, this day has even more significance.
Tree Canada, the national charity dedicated to planting and nurturing trees, pushed for the creation of this holiday. We were thrilled when a private members motion presented by former Conservative MP Royal Galipeau declaring that the Wednesday of National Forest Week would now be known as National Tree Day received consent from the House of Commons in 2011.
Years later, we now see studies demonstrating a clear link between nature and personal well-being. As we further understand the implications of climate change, trees become even more important, given their ability to clean the air, providing shade, store carbon, and mitigate the effects of flooding.
The architect William McDonough once perfectly summed up the nearly flawless elegance of trees. “Imagine this design assignment,” he posited wryly. “Design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distils water, accrues solar energy as fuel, makes complex sugars and food, creates micro climate, changes colours with the seasons, and self-replicates.”
Tree Canada believes we can improve the lives of Canadians by planting and nurturing more trees because of the positive impact they have on human health, communities and our natural environment. This is why National Tree Day is so important to us.
As we celebrate both National Tree Day and our 25th anniversary, Tree Canada will be planting our 82 millionth tree in Ottawa next to Parliament Hill. As we move into the next 25 years, we’re helping protect urban forests from blights like the emerald ash borer and are helping areas like Fort McMurray recover their tree canopy from devastating forest fires and other natural disasters.
In these efforts, we’ve seen tremendous support from individuals, corporations and governments at all levels. In fact, when we first started out, our operating budget was almost entirely funded by the Canadian government. Today, we are almost entirely supported by everyday Canadians and the private sector, with government funding accounting for less than four percent of our operating budget.
Tree Canada is not by nature an advocacy organization. We decided long ago that we could make a bigger difference to Canada’s green spaces with action rather than talk. But on the occasion of National Tree Day, we wanted to proverbially put down our shovels, wipe the dirt off our hands, and take a moment to advocate for trees.
The health of Canada’s urban forests, should be of utmost concern—from the positive effect on our home values and tax base, to the wildlife diversity they protect, to the potential a well-managed urban forest presents in reducing the effects of climate change. The sad truth, however, is the canopy that covers all of our major cities has actually declined over the past 20 years.
One way our government leaders can help is by pursuing urban forest strategies at the national, provincial and municipal levels. In the face of warming temperatures and forest fires, invasive insects and urban sprawl, the future of our urban forests have never been so vital or so at risk. The City of Toronto estimated most of their 860,000 ash trees will be killed by the emerald ash borer. In Ottawa, close to 15,000 ash trees have already been chopped down.
In honour of National Forest Week and National Tree Day, we ask that our government work with us to fully implement a robust national urban forest strategy to protect and replenish our urban forests. I can think of no better way of marking Canada 150 than committing to protect the future of our urban forests. By doing so, we will also be helping to protect the health of all Canadians and the communities they live in.
Michael Rosen is the president of Tree Canada.