Ottawa organization donates record number of trees as city battles worsening heat waves

Ecology Ottawa is seeing a record demand for tree seedlings in its annual giveaways this year, as it says efforts to limit the effect of worsening heat waves are gaining momentum across the city.

The nonprofit environmental advocacy group said it has donated more than 9,400 plants so far – well beyond what it has donated in the same period, before pandemic, in 2019.

With the cooling of urban neighborhoods as one of the goals of the project, the organization has organized dozens of giveaways every year since 2014.

“Trees do so many different things,” said Robb Barnes, Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa.

He says they can help mitigate the urban heat island effect. The effect is the tendency for urban areas to be warmer than the surrounding rural areas, mainly because pavement and other manufactured materials retain heat, while forest cover and farmland cool the surrounding air.

Robb Barnes, executive director of Ecology Ottawa, says tree cover and green spaces are important ways for the city to limit the impact of future heat waves. (Submitted / Ecology Ottawa)

Trees are “incredible machines”

As extreme temperatures claim lives across the country, David Gordon, professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Queen’s University, says the National Capital Region must plan to combat the effect of heat island.

He says it will be “one of the major environmental changes over the next 50 years.”

“The things you typically put in your plan are managing urban forests, increasing the urban canopy, [and] improving green infrastructure … Trees are incredible devices. Simply amazing devices, ”he said.

Gordon said alternative building materials, careful land use planning and green, reflective roofs are also on the list of approaches used to refresh neighborhoods around the world.

Capital Canopy Objectives

The City of Ottawa set a 40% urban canopy target in its new draft plan, which a spokesperson in an email said was a “critical threshold for heat island mitigation.”

But Barnes, who runs the Ecology Ottawa tree competition, said he wanted 40 percent coverage in each of the city’s neighborhoods – not just a city-wide total that might obscure the regional differences.

“[In] low income developments, you often see that the trees are just very missing, so we really want to restore the green infrastructure in those areas, ”he said.

Efforts to grow Ottawa’s canopy must recognize that much of Ottawa’s land is privately owned, said Jen Stelzer, director of community sustainability programs at the non-profit Envirocentre.

She said the tree gift is an important initiative, as cooling Ottawa’s neighborhoods requires homeowner buy-in.

“It takes two to tango. Individual residents own a lot of land in this city,” she said.

“You can plant trees in parks and plant trees on boulevards, but [we need] homeowners and residential properties really understand and support planting trees in our communities … it would make a huge difference. “

Ecology Ottawa’s next tree giveaway will be on Saturday at the Orleans Rotary Club.

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