Tree canopy cover is defined as the proportion of land area covered by tree crowns as measured by aerial survey. It’s a useful barometer to determine whether or not a city is serious about sustainable development.

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Surrey’s tree canopy ratio went from 33% to 30% from 2001 to 2009, which translates into a 10% loss of canopy trees over 8 years. The latest statistics shows the ratio dropping another 2.3% from 2009 to 2013, which means in just 4 years we have already lost another 8-10% of the city’s canopy trees. The 2014 draft Canopy Report which was presented to the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Commitee  in December 2014 seems to place the blame primarily on overdevelopment, so clearly unless the city addresses the issue we will continue to lose trees at an unsustainable rate, which makes Surrey’s goal of attaining a 40% tree canopy ratio by 2058 questionable.

Most of the tree loss between 2001 and 2009 was associated with the following:

  • New development containing few trees due to larger buildings on smaller lots with inadequate space for trees, and often displacing forest
  • Infill of new homes within older developments and associated tree removal
  • Lack of growth of trees that are inappropriately planted and maintained

Surrey has planted 93,000 trees, but there are studies that estimate that between 34 and 99% of young trees die off within the first five years.

Here is a list of challenges from the original Burris tree canopy report from 2010 which pretty much guarantees that Surrey will continue to lose its mature canopy trees at an alarming rate until something substantial is done about it:

  • Density of new developments limits the space available for tree planting
  • Urban conditions of some tree planting limits growth potential
  • Poor soils are typically used for urban tree planting
  • In many cases, care of trees after planting is substandard
  • Planting of inappropriate tree species often leads to tree removal
  • Infill development in older areas is removing larger trees
  • Lack of awareness of the importance of the tree canopy by development industry, some
  • consultants, and the public
  • Increasing intensity of use of agricultural and park lands could result in lower average tree canopy
  • Forested areas on private land may be cleared for development

To coincide with the release of the Canopy Report to the ESAC, a committee with publically posts minutes of its meetings on the City of Surrey website, there were excellent stories on responses to it which  in the Peace Arch News and the Surrey Now.  Councillor Bruce Hayne is the head of the ESAC. You can reach him here. Bob Campbell, an active community member, is vice-chair and can be reached here.

The Infill Development section of Surrey’s Official Community Plan calls for the retention of “existing trees and natural and heritage features in existing neighbourhoods, where possible, in order to preserve neighbourhood character and ecology.” Drive through South Surrey and see for yourself the pitifully small number of trees that are retained in the high-density developments currently under construction.

More on tree preservation and the canopy can be read in the GHSA Blog as well as in the Press section. The GHSA also offered comment on the initial draft of the Canopy report and efforts to increase canopy in the Now Newspaper.

For tree preservation in from many different angles, GHSA member and PhD in the forestry/botany research field Dr. Alisa Ramakrishnan posts a sister blog to the GHSA blog entitled Save Sunnyside Trees.  Sybil Rowe, also a GHSA member, has actively advocated for passive park preservation, alternative solutions to lot layouts in development applications in order to save trees, and having secured a passive forest area in Grandview Heights, is working with Engineering to save heritage conifers on 168th St.