What is the Urban Forest Strategy?

The Urban Forest Strategy 2021-45 is a strategic document that sets out the ACT Government’s vision for a resilient and sustainable urban forest that supports a liveable city. The Strategy is a key tool in achieving 30% canopy cover in the ACT.

Why do we need an Urban Forest Strategy?

The ACT has always prioritised having tree lined streets and leafy suburbs, with significant plantings happening over decades. Now, in 2021, we are not only facing the challenge of ageing trees reaching the end of their life and needing to be removed, but also the impacts of climate change and intensification of our city and town centres.

To maintain a healthy and resilient tree canopy cover for future generations to enjoy, a strategic approach is now needed.

What does the Urban Forest Strategy do?

The Strategy sets a vision for all Canberrans to enjoy the benefits of streets lined with healthy trees – for an urban forest that is resilient, sustainable and contributes to the wellbeing of the community in a changing climate. To achieve the vision the Strategy sets out six key objectives:

  • Protect the urban forest
  • Grow a resilient forest
  • Balance and diversify the urban forest
  • Take an ecological approach and support biodiversity
  • Develop infrastructure to support the urban forest and liveability
  • Partner with the community.

How will the Urban Forest Strategy achieve its vision?

The Strategy sets out six clear objectives (see above) to achieve its vision and provides significant detail on how the objectives will be achieved. In achieving each objective, a number of outcomes are expected (detailed in the Strategy, under the main heading for each objective). Taking this one step further, each outcome has a number of specific actions for the ACT Government to undertake, including specifying a timeframe.

The ACT Government will deliver it’s first report on the Strategy within two years, reflecting the number of important immediate actions, critical to the success of the Strategy. Reporting will then occur every five years for the life of the Strategy.

What consultation was undertaken?

The ACT Government consulted with the community on a draft Strategy in the second half of 2020. The consultation involved a survey and call for written submissions. In total more than 240 people had a say and the sentiment was very supportive. From the survey, 97% of people agree with all six objectives of the Strategy, 92% agreed with the vision statement and 75% said they were very or extremely supportive of the draft Strategy.

Does the Strategy mean more trees will be planted?

The Strategy sets out a number of ways to achieve its vision and objectives. Some of this will be additional tree planting. For example, the ACT Government has committed to planting 25,000 trees by 2023.

How does the Strategy work with Canberra’s Living Infrastructure Plan?

Canberra’s Living Infrastructure Plan, released in 2019, provides strategic direction to help our expanding and densifying urban areas become better prepared for and more resilient to climate change. The Living Infrastructure Plan sets out a target of 30% canopy cover, or equivalent, by 2045.

The Living Infrastructure Plan also has a number of actions, one of which is to develop an Urban Forest Strategy. The Strategy continues the ACT Government’s commitment to the 30% canopy cover target and will help achieve the objectives of the Living Infrastructure Plan.

The Strategy says the ACT has only 19% canopy cover, why is this different to Canberra’s Living Infrastructure Plan?

Tree canopy cover is measured using LiDAR which gives a significant amount of data that requires interpretation. Initial analysis of data from 2015 indicated that the ACT had 21% canopy cover and this was reflected both in Canberra’s Living Infrastructure Plan and the consultation draft of the Strategy. However subsequent analysis of the same data led to a revised canopy cover level of 19%. This figure has been used in the Strategy so we have the most accurate and up to date information to use as a starting point.

LiDAR is a survey method that involves a plane that takes measurements of the surface of the ground by laser and measures the light reflected with a sensor. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths can be used to made 3D digital representations of surfaces, like trees.

How much will it cost to achieve the canopy cover target and where will the money come from?

The costs to establish a tree vary greatly depending on the species and location. Growing local natives species into a small pot and planting in urban open space is inexpensive. Growing a larger exotic tree and planting it on nature strip or high-use public area is much more expensive, both to purchase the tree and to undertake the necessary site assessments, site preparation and engagement needed to ensure the location is suitable.

The cost to remove a mature tree at the end of its life is also significant as it requires specialised equipment, trained operators and safety considerations.

Costs will be sought through the ACT Government budget and managed very carefully by a range of methods including bulk-ordering of tree stock; using in-house staff and equipment resources; fostering active community groups to assist in planting and maintenance as well as citizen science to help with forward planning; selecting species that are able to cope with a changing climate; putting extra effort into care of newly planted trees to maximise survival rates.

Achieving the target will also uses a range of other methods such as extending the life of existing trees through maintenance and other interventions; providing incentives to retain trees on private land; including non-tree canopy cover equivalents in the canopy cover calculation and better protecting trees on private land.

How will trees be planted and maintained?

Building the skills and capacity of ACT Government teams will be the main method to undertake on-ground works. Having multi-skilled teams with the right equipment enables a team to move between seasonal tasks that are dictated by the needs of the trees. For example, a team can be assigned to planting in spring, watering in summer, pruning in autumn and end of life removals in winter. In that way the staffing resources are utilised fully all year round. Some tasks will be supplemented by contracted resources (such as watering and dead tree removal) to meet peak demands or bring in specialised skills or equipment.

Many street trees in older suburbs look healthy and green. Will they be removed?

Removing a mature tree at the end of its life and replacing it with a new tree is known as renewal. As the urban forest ages over the life of the Strategy, renewal will become more and more important as the existing planting spaces are filled. In many cases, determining the health of a tree requires qualified expertise and often a visual inspection from an elevated work platform. Renewing entire streets has a dramatic impact on the visual quality and wherever possible renewal will be undertaken on an individual tree basis, so the streetscape can be preserved as much as possible.

What about new suburbs with low canopy cover, are they a priority for planting?

Many newer suburbs have large number of trees that are yet to reach their canopy potential. Plantings gaps will be filled in these suburbs however it is expected that canopy cover in these.