Kingston Council votes to begin mapping and conservation of urban woodlands

A motion directing City staff to map out the existing woodlands within the urban boundary of Kingston was the topic of an interesting discussion at the City Council meeting held Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Moved by Councillor Lisa Osanic and seconded by Councillor Simon Chapelle, the motion noted that the City of Kingston has had numerous woodlands cut down south of Highway 401 over the last year for development, with more woodlands to come up for development in the next short while, and residents have expressed growing concern to their councillors about the clearcuts and the resulting loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

Forests provide a radiating cooling effect on the environment surrounding them, a point raised by a number of delegates with regard to urban woodlands conservation at the Kingston City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Therefore, the motion directed that City of Kingston staff:

1. Map out the existing woodlands within the urban boundary, identifying which woodlands are owned by the City and which are held in private ownership; and 

2. Provide strategies for Council’s consideration to protect Kingston’s remaining woodlands within the urban boundary.

“I wrote this motion,” Osanic explained, “because we’ve had an unprecedented number of woodlands that have come up for development and have been cut down over the last year, compared to other years. Just off the top of my head, [for approximately] 20 woodlands, we’ve either approved at Planning Committee to be cut down because the Environmental Impact Statement has allowed it, or they are coming up for development. And when you see the clear cut lands… it’s just devastating. There’s got to be a way that we can try to save the last woodlands we have south of the 401 in the urban boundary.”

Osanic asked that mapping be undertaken to see which woodlands were City-owned, and which were owned privately, asserting that, “there’s got to be some strategies out there that we can try to use as a municipality to save some trees.” She gave the example of creating more population density rather than the urban sprawl that causes clear-cutting of forests: “When the woodlands are cut down, even if… maybe 20 per cent [of the trees are] replanted, you’re not getting a woodland back, so you’re not getting the biodiversity back. You’re not getting the wildlife habitat back with just a few trees planted on front lawns and along the sidewalks. It is just not the same thing.”

Further, she added, “We do have a climate emergency right across the world… So this [question] is wide open to staff: what strategies are there that other cities are doing that might help [Kingston]? So, next time, when woodlands come to the Planning Committee for development, we have some strategies to try to save as much of that woodland as possible.”

After some discussion, Councillor Peter Stroud moved to amend part one of the motion by removing the last half of the sentence, so it would only read “map out the existing woodlands within the urban boundary.”

Councillor Ryan Boehme summarized the thoughts expressed by some of his colleagues saying, “I think this is a great amendment, and it makes this manageable, as Councillor Stroud pointed out, more in-house. Ultimately, I think the entire thing was good. It was just trying to do too much… We do need a good baseline… I look forward to getting that information back… And then we can come back to the private side. But I think that needs to be managed in a different way.”

Councillor Robert Kiley disagreed, and stated he wanted the motion to pass as it was tabled, without the amendment.

“At least 90 per cent of what we deal with [at Planning Committee] is an issue of private ownership… I’m interested in passing the motion as it was, without the amendment, to understand the trade-offs of what protection might mean,” he expressed, noting he felt the amendment “neuters the effectiveness of the motion”.

“And, as the councillor (Osanic) set it up, it’s not anti-development in any way. But taking out the private piece essentially removes the planning discussion from it, which is why I was interested in seeing it pass. So, I won’t vote for the amendment,” Kiley concluded.

The point was at risk of being derailed when the cost of hiring a contractor to do the mapping was discussed, with a price point of over $100,000 being bandied about. Osanic was quick to clarify that what is needed isn’t any new cartography, but rather a simple Google Map plotting out public woodlands to see which the City could control on its own, and which were owned by private citizens and companies.

Osanic theorized that, once Council and staff become aware of the ownership of each woodland, it would be easier to strategize the next steps to protect as many woodlands as possible: first, through forest management of City properties, and second, by incentivising private owners to keep as many old trees and woodlands intact as possible.

Kathleen O’Hara of No Clearcuts Kingston (NCK) made an impassioned delegation to Council prior to the discussion, extolling the value of trees for combating climate change. “In March 2019, the City of Kingston declared a climate emergency… Last month the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo issued a dire warning. They pointed out that extreme heat would probably be the biggest climate killer in Canada. They identified 15 urban areas most vulnerable to that heat; Kingston is one of them,” O’Hara reported.

Councillor Lisa Osanic (in blue) makes an impassioned plea to her colleagues: “Other cities are able to save these woodlands; why can’t we? That’s all I’m asking with this motion. Thank you.” Screen captured image.

“The report recommended trees as a way of mitigating the heat’s impact,” she continued. “I repeat: trees. Is there anyone here who hasn’t enjoyed the cooling effect of trees? But what is Kingston doing? Cutting down trees or allowing developers to cut them down.”

O’Hara pointed to a multitude of projects in the City that have or are planning to clear cut woodlands, and among those she gave examples where residents had been told at least some of the trees were going to be safe, only to have them cut down.

“I want to conclude by begging City Council to support this motion,” she said, closing out her argument. “We were the first community in Ontario to declare a climate emergency. Let’s be as wise and proactive as we were three years ago and save our remaining trees. They will probably save lives in the not-too-distant future.” 

Joyce Hostyn, an ecological planner and rewilding advocate who is one of the co founders of Kingston’s Little Forests Project, voiced her thoughts as a delegate. “One of the things with the woodlands and why they are so important is that they radiate [cooling effects] out to up to 16 meters [from the woodland] or more, depending on the density of the woodland,” she said.

Infographic from University of Waterloo’s report on extreme heat. Kingston is listed as one of the communities at most risk.

“The biodiversity of the woodland itself has a significant impact on the cooling effect, as well. So, the diversity of woodland — not just trees in rows — has an important impact,” Hostyn added, noting that a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) discusses intensification versus tree canopy.

“I think we have to stop saying either/or,” she opined. “Little trees are also really important: some of those woodland trees, while they may be five to 10 years old, [are] on the way to being elder trees, and also the trees in woodlands [tend to] mass and live a lot longer than trees along the street.”  

The motion was discussed in depth by Council for nearly an hour before it passed, as amended.

2 thoughts on “Kingston Council votes to begin mapping and conservation of urban woodlands

  • Bravo to councillor Osanic for her effort to get the Kingston council to go beyond lip service in fighting climate change

  • I concur with Barrie Chamberlain. We need to be pro-active in regard to climate change.

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