‘Branching out’: Calgarians claim 2,000 trees to grow canopy

Click to play video: 'City of Calgary ‘Branching Out’ program encourages Calgarians to plant trees in their yards'
City of Calgary ‘Branching Out’ program encourages Calgarians to plant trees in their yards
The City of Calgary’s ‘Branching Out’ program is giving away 2,000 trees to Calgarians to increase the city’s canopy coverage. But as Meghan Cobb reports, not everyone thinks the program is the right way to address urban forestry issues – Feb 24, 2023

The City of Calgary’s expanded “Branching Out” program is now closed after 2,000 trees were claimed by Calgary home owners.

Five hundred trees were available to interested citizens in each of the city’s four quadrants through an application process. The northeast was the last quadrant to access to apply for the program.

Registration on Thursday only lasted 34 minutes due to the high demand.

“We’re super excited to see the level of interest and demand from Calgarians,” said Mike Mahon, City of Calgary urban forestry lead. “We hope to continue to monitor and expand (the program), and look forward to scaling it up over the next couple of years.”

The program aims to expand the city’s tree canopy by planting trees on private property. Calgary’s canopy is currently at 8.25 per cent, but the goal is to expand the coverage to 16 per cent. About 70 per cent of the canopy is made up by trees on private land.

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The canopy isn’t divided equally through all four quadrants. Communities in the northeast like Falconridge, Saddletowne and CityScape only have a coverage of approximately 2 per cent, prompting some residents to question the equity of the city’s tree planting.

“When you go to other areas and compare it to the northeast, you see it’s not enough,” said Farhana Raza, a northeast resident. “Parks for sure have way less trees than required.”

“I think we should get some more trees and get some nicer trees in the area,” said Stephanie Dunham, who has lived in the northeast her whole life. “We have some dog parks here and it would be nice to see some trees, maybe along the roads here like McKnight.”

Click to play video: 'Record-breaking snowfall surprised Calgarians and trees'
Record-breaking snowfall surprised Calgarians and trees

Mahon said the city is aware of the issue and is working to address some of the issues that cause the difference in canopy coverage.

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“Equity is a key metric that we’re monitoring and looking towards achieving,” he said. “We do have an equity metric that we’re using as we determine where to plant public trees.”

The fix for the inequity between the west and east canopy coverage isn’t as simple as planting more trees. The city’s biodiversity plays a role, with the west sitting in river valley and parkland, while the east has more grassland.

“Some of the processes and priorities that we’re working on (include) amending the soil when we’re planting trees in the northeast quadrant in particular,” said Mahon.

The eastern half of the city is also home to many commercial and industrial sites, as well as newer communities, so the trees that are there don’t provide as much canopy as those in established neighbourhoods.

Jana Vamosi, professor of ecology at the University of Calgary, said it’s not surprising that trees on the eastern part of the city struggle to grow. Soil that is further away from a river or water source will dry up more quickly when it rains when compared with soil in a river valley.

She adds while there are challenges to growing trees in the grasslands, it’s not impossible.

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Click to play video: 'Trees removed around northwest Calgary train stations to discourage camping and drug use'
Trees removed around northwest Calgary train stations to discourage camping and drug use

“You can plant a mini forest,” said Vamosi. “Planting a variety of different species of trees, you’re probably going to increase your chances that one of those types of trees is going to be a good match for the environment that you’re planting in.”

The City of Calgary’s Urban Forestry Strategic Plan will see 91,000 seedlings planted in public spaces like parks and along roads this year.

The equity metric will be used to determine their location, meaning more than half the seedlings will be planted on the east side of the city, with a focus on the northeast.

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