With tens of thousands of hectares of forest burning around us and smoke choking our lungs, it’s a clear reminder of our need to make changes to combat global warming. Now more than ever, we need to consider the importance of urban trees here in Kamloops in tackling climate change.
Street trees soak up a tremendous amount of CO2 over their lifetime and they cool our community during the hot summer months. Additionally, they add beauty, and contribute to the health of our urban ecosystems offering birds, bugs, and bats a place to live. Look at the heritage neighborhood of downtown Kamloops West End with its many large firs offering it a real sense of permanence and pride. Kamloops has a set goal of increasing its urban canopy to 20% and has made some significant progress over the past decade reaching about 16%. But recently, it has slowed, falling well short of its 2020 goal of 200 new trees, planting only 160.
All trees are not created equally. Most of the trees that were planted in the city are not native tree species and will not reach the same size. More needs to be done, not only to ensure that we plant more trees but that we conserve the large native trees that we currently have.
During the recent “Heat Dome”, a weather event of unprecedented intensity, every scrap of shade became an island of safety in scorching streets. The urban heat island effect is the phenomenon whereby cities tend to be hotter than the surrounding landscape. The cause of this is the removal of vegetation, especially trees, and their replacement with surfaces that heat up more easily like roads and buildings. The most effective way to cool our neighbourhoods is to plant more trees, and to carefully conserve the trees that we do have. Large trees with mature canopies that cast a wide shadow of shady coolness are far more effective than smaller fruit and ornamental trees.
All around Kamloops we are losing large trees faster than we are replacing them. This has included many large cottonwoods along the river’s edge: trees which many landowners may view as “nuisance trees”. It’s true that cottonwoods can be messy, however they are hugely important to the Cottonwood Riparian ecosystem of the Southern Interior, a zone that has been greatly impacted by the development of cities like Kamloops and Kelowna.
Along the River’s Trail, one of Kamloops’ iconic cottonwoods with a pair of carved bearded faces, as well as other fine trees were recently removed from the former Thrupp Manor site. The riverfront property has been sold off by the City and is currently being subdivided, a sad loss for our community. The City has permitted many other large cottonwoods to be removed by private property owners along the river’s edge as well.
New developments favour small ornamental varieties like flowering plums rather than large trees. Less popular are our native tree species including Douglas Firs and Ponderosa Pines. These species are fantastic choices that offer nesting and food sources for native fauna, and they are drought tolerant. However, it takes many decades for them to grow to maturity highlighting the value of any mature conifers we already have. It is extremely concerning that almost any time properties are re-developed any large trees are chopped down. It seems the redevelopment process is exempt from the need to have permits for tree removal. As a result, many mature trees are being lost in this way even when the trees aren’t in the way of the new buildings.
Other cities such as Vancouver have strict bylaws requiring developers to protect trees and only remove them if absolutely necessary, and we should too.
We’ve lost too many large, mature, native trees in Kamloops. If we wants to meet our goal of 20% urban canopy, we need to get serious and do more to protect the trees we already have.