'Snowtember' cash almost gone but more might be needed

The city has planted more than 24,000 trees to recover from a freak September snowfall in 2014 but some councillors say the tree-planting budget needs a bigger boost.

Some councillors fear Calgary's tree canopy may continue to shrink

Lynden Gill took this picture of street in Calgary covered in snow-laden trees in September 2014. (@lyndengill/Twitter)

The city has planted more than 24,000 trees over the past three years as part of plan to recover from "Snowtember."

The unusually heavy snowfall in September 2014 damaged tens of thousands of trees across the city.

More than $35 million was set aside by council from a reserve fund for the recovery program. Almost all of that money has been spent.

The program included pruning thousands of damaged trees, planting new ones and educating Calgarians about the importance of trees.

However, a city council committee heard Wednesday that some councillors feel more money is needed if the city is to fully restore and grow its tree canopy in the years ahead.

Woolley fears 3,500 trees per year not enough

Coun. Evan Woolley said the city plants 3,500 trees in a normal year — and that's not sufficient to help grow Calgary's tree canopy.

"We will see a declining canopy coverage and declining number of trees year over year. That will become a significant problem in established communities," said Woolley.

"We are losing 3,500  trees a year.… The budget that we have right now does not even have us even breakeven on re-planting that same number."

The city's trees took a beating last year when a surprise snowfall hit the city. Arborist Keegan Davidson says he is still finding storm-related damage in Calgary's tree tops. 1:03

The chair of the committee, Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart, said the city's recovery program has worked. She especially likes the part putting trees into Calgarians' hands to plant in their own yards.

But she, too, believes money will have to be added to the budget for next year to plant more trees and boost the coverage provided by the overall tree canopy.

"It all fits into our whole climate change strategy," said Colley-Urquhart. "I do have continuing concerns. We need to continue to invest." 

Remaining cash for pruning and watering

The community and protective services committee heard that there's still $1.89 million left in the tree disaster recovery program.  

Administration is recommending that the cash be spent on pruning and watering the newly-planted trees in 2018 to help ensure they can grow stronger for the years ahead.

The general manager of community and protective services, Kurt Hanson, said it's an important investment to make in the young trees.

"We have to make sure we nurture them along for like five years. Otherwise, we lose the investment that's already been made," said Hanson.

"Making sure that they're watered at the right level for an ongoing period of time is probably the best thing to do in terms of their survival." 

The report will be discussed by city council later this month.

Any possible increase in spending on tree planting could be part of council's 2019 budget debate this November.