Halifax Regional Municipality – The Urban Forest Master Plan

Cities across North America are recognizing the importance of urban canopies and the benefits it offers communities. The Halifax Regional Municipality is a great example of a city who saw the value of trees in the city and acted. They have created a comprehensive Urban Forest Master Plan which targets air quality, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, economic benefits, energy use benefits, health benefits, hydrological benefits, road benefits, and social & sociological benefits.

Several disastrous natural events, including storms and pests, resulted in the destruction of thousands of trees within Halifax. This prompted the city to create a plan to manage the urban forest to yield better results for generations to come. The master plan created by Halifax Regional Municipality was designed to establish policies, procedures, and implement strategies for the municipality to carry out for a successful future for its urban canopy. This plans origin dates to a motion passed in 2001 and led to a policy passed in 2006. Since then, the city is recognized to have one of the most robust Urban Canopy initiatives and stands as a leading example for other municipalities to imitate.

HRM Urban Forest Master Plan

The HRM Urban Forest Master Plan Will:

  • Establish the values, objectives, indicators, targets, and management actions necessary for the sustainability of the urban forest.
  • Identify urban forest issues and opportunities for their resolution.
  • Adopt changes to funding allocations, regulations, policies, by-laws, and processes for managing the urban forest.
  • Raise public awareness of the importance of trees to the city and its citizens.
    (HRM – Master Urban Plan)

The Value of Trees Recognized:

In 2007, HRM, in collaboration with Dalhousie University, undertook and issued the first comprehensive study of HRM’s urban forest.

Halifax UFORE study

The model above was a tool used to educate HRM residents to the benefits of urban forestry. It outlines quantitative information on tree populations, age distributions, tree-species diversity, tree condition, economic benefits, and costs. The benefits of trees within cities are inarguable.

The Hard Facts:

  • The urban trees and shrubs services in the area of HRM serve to remove 1,478 metric tons (Mg) of pollutants annually, resulting in a value of $9.6 million each year in air pollution mitigation.
  • HRM’s street trees are estimated to hold more than 2 million tonnes of carbon, and annually sequester more than 100,000 tonnes.
  • The accrued benefits of street trees outweigh their management costs by a rate of eight to one.
  • A mature street tree will provide approximately $65 in benefits annually, and in its lifetime, it will contribute a total of $6,600 in value through its ecological and aesthetic services alone.
  • Quantitative analysis of the condition of the street trees in the HRM urban core determined that there are some 75 thousand spots that should have a tree and presently do not.
  • The planning team determined that all HRM parks should have a canopy coverage of at least 40%, and that canopy coverage should be made up significantly of naturalized forest stands.
  • In a study completed at the University of Washington, consumers were reported to spend an average of 11% more at businesses located in a landscaped business district, compared with a non-landscaped district.
  • Trees can also increase energy savings by acting as windbreaks in the colder seasons and reducing energy usage by 10%.
  • A modelling study using software developed by the USDA Forest Service called STRATUM indicates that HRM’s street trees save $12.4 million in energy costs each year.
  • Hospital patients with views of trees heal significantly faster and with fewer complications than those without such favourable views.
  • It is estimated that for every 5% increase in overall canopy cover, total city run-off is reduced by 2%.
  • In HRM, it is estimated that street trees provide about $2.1 million in stormwater reduction services annually.
  • A row of conifers can reduce traffic noise by 50% or more.
  • A road surface that is 20% shaded has its pavement condition improved by 11%. After 30 years, this results in a 60% savings on resurfacing.

The undertaking of an Urban Forest Master Plan is commendable and necessary. Trees are a fundamental part of community ecosystems, improving the livability and longevity of our cities. Halifax is not alone in this quest. Many municipalities are seeing the value of extending the urban canopy and more importantly, creating initiatives and laws to protect the current canopy within cities. The choice to make municipalities better habitats is an easy one and starts with one simple detail – a tree.

Interested in knowing more? Check out the Halifax Tree Project.