Driving past trees may be common in Canadian cities, but urban foresters aren’t taking the trees’ presence for granted. In fact, research points towards the positive impact trees can have on a city’s economic and healthy well-being.

The 2011 census indicated 81 percent of Canadians live in urban areas. Tree Canada, a non-profit charity proudly dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians by planting and nurturing trees, found that in 2014 there were roughly 149 trees for every 1,000 residents.

Tree Canada was a driving force in the establishment of National Tree Day. On March 2, 2011, a private members motion to declare this special day as the Wednesday of National Forest Week in September, received consent from the House of Commons. The motion was presented by Royal Galipeau, M.P. for Ottawa-Orleans at the urging of Tree Canada.

Through community greening initiatives in five urban cities across the country (Coquitlam, BC, Winnipeg, MB, Markham, ON, Montreal, QC and St. John’s, NL), Tree Canada is raising awareness of the health and benefits provided by urban forests during this year’s National Tree Day on September 26. They are dedicating it to Royal’s memory after he passed away in January of this year.

Greening cities across the nation

Since 1992, the non-profit has planted more than 80 million trees, sequestering millions of tons of carbon pollution at the same time.

To increase biodiversity, it’s important to use different tree species to help stave off disease or disaster and maintain a healthy city landscape. “Canadian cities weren’t really developed with trees in mind, unlike roads, sewers and underground infrastructure,” says Mike Rosen, President of Tree Canada. “We went through some bad years in urban forestry planning because of a lack of education and training, where one or two species would dominate the plantings of an entire city.”

When it comes to increasing the size of urban forests, Rosen believes municipal governments hold the most sway because of the by-laws and programs they can implement to spur action.

“Bigger cities are establishing canopy cover targets, which measure the actual amount of coverage trees provide,” he says. “It’s about more than just planting more trees. Because so much of a city’s land is privately owned. it’s about protecting the trees that are there and incentivizing the private sector to plant more as well.” He goes on to say, “municipalities need more help from the federal and provincial governments if they are to have the upper hand on invasive insects, climate change and other urban forest threats.”

Forestry providing disaster recovery

As an integral part of urban communities, non-profits like Tree Canada play a role in helping to revitalize regions hit by disasters. After the devastating fires in Fort McMurray in 2016, Tree Canada stepped in, fielding calls and helping raise funds from sponsors and individual donors. Recent forest fires in BC have also solidified the importance of organizations like Tree Canada who are dedicated to reforestation.

Better known as Operation ReLeaf, the private resident and community grant programs fostered under the initiative support re-greening efforts for homeowners, landowners, and First Nations communities affected by natural disasters and pest infestations. “The tree becomes a very important symbol of how life was before the disaster occurred, helping them regain a sense of normalcy,” Rosen says.

He believes that the best way to support urban forests is for individuals to get involved with greening their own communities.