Call to restore trees to ‘bush capital’

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Urgent action is being called for to reverse the decline of Canberra’s trees and to begin restoring the city’s urban tree canopy.

Canberra’s urban forest includes over 700,000 trees in public areas; however, a Question on Notice from Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur, found that street and park trees in established suburbs are declining by around 3,000 a year. In contrast, the ACT Government completed a winter tree planting program of 608 trees with an additional 96 planted last spring.

An ACT Government spokesperson said the government is “committed to plant 1,330 trees in the 2018-19 Budget. A total of 444 trees will be planted in the first stage with plans for a significant number more over the next three years.”

But Ms Le Couteur said the replanting program “is clearly failing to meet the mark”.

“It’s unacceptable, at a time of rising temperatures in the bush capital, that Canberra should see numbers of trees decreasing. The last report on this issue, from seven years ago, showed that our streets and parks needed 40,000 trees to fill the gaps and replace dying trees, and unfortunately that number would be much higher now,” Ms Le Couteur said.

The Greens have called on the ACT Government to plant an extra 7,000 trees a year to help address the issue, starting a petition on the matter.

“If we want to maintain a liveable Canberra, then we need trees – this is not a ‘wait and see’ scenario,” Ms Le Couteur said.

An ACT Government spokesperson said “planning is currently underway to increase the rate of replanting to cover not only the tree losses due to ageing, but to also increase the overall tree canopy coverage across the city”.

A recent report on the urban heat island effect in Canberra found that neighbourhoods with tree canopy shade of 30% or more can be up to 13 degrees cooler on a hot day.

Ms Le Couteur said problem areas include newer suburbs being developed without room for deep-rooted shade trees while older suburbs are losing their tree canopies as bigger houses replace modest older homes.

The ACT Government is considering how best to renew the ageing urban forest and increase canopy cover, with a new Climate Strategy due for release shortly.

Meanwhile, tree planting and landscaping works are continuing in areas around the light rail project. Approximately less than 5% of trees are currently beyond recovery due to the recent heatwave.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the ACT had its warmest January on record with the Canberra airport site having a record run of four days above 40oC.

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