The Hamilton Naturalists’ Club is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, appreciation and conservation of the wild plants and animals in Hamilton. The Club has over 600 members who are involved in a variety of activities, including nature outings, bird studies, educating children about nature and acquiring ecologically sensitive land for protection. 

The HNC works to protect natural spaces in both urban and rural areas. 

We have all heard time and time again about the importance of protecting forests. For most of us, the word “forest” calls to mind an image of a large expanse of pristine, untouched wilderness. But what about the trees and green spaces within our city – that is, our urban forest?

While urban forests can’t perform all of the functions that traditional forests do, they still provide the community with many ecological, health and economic benefits. For example, trees in urban areas provide habitat for birds and small mammals, and improve air and water quality, which is good for the environment and human health. Studies have also found that trees have a positive impact on psychological health. The economic benefits of a healthy urban forest include an  increase in property value and a reduction in energy costs by providing natural heating and cooling effects. Check here to calculate the value of your trees.

So, how does Westdale’s urban forest measure up?

In 2003, Environment Hamilton, with the help of many volunteers, conducted an inventory of the public and private trees in Westdale. The data collected was analyzed at the University of Toronto, and summarized in a report. This report gave a good picture of the state of the urban forest in this area, and made some recommendations for improvement. The study found that only a few tree species made up a large portion of the canopy, and that non-native species were quite common. It also identified 135 potentially hazardous trees and 125 spots where trees could be planted. To see the full results, you can read the report here.This summer, the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club plans to discover what has changed in the last 10 years by updating the inventory.

Beginning in June, the HNC and a number of volunteers will be traveling through a defined area of Westdale, recording several pieces of data on each tree, including species, size, and condition. The study area includes most of the Westdale South neighbourhood. In order to obtain a complete, accurate picture of the urban forest, the inventory will require volunteers to enter private property, with the permission of residents. This aspect of the study is extremely important, as the City of Hamilton only keeps track of street trees, and does not possess an inventory of trees on private land (even though, according to the 2003 Trees Count, private trees account for 70% of the urban forest). To collect data for our inventory, volunteers will be using the Neighbourwoods Program, which was designed at the University of Toronto and used in the 2003 TreesCount. The data will be analyzed to produce a report on diversity, distribution, canopy cover, health and other components of the urban forest in Westdale. The report will then be summarized and presented to the Westdale community, who can use the information to make decisions on key actions they would like to take to improve their urban forest.

We believe that monitoring the urban forest is important for a number of reasons. Some of our goals for the project include: 
  • Evaluate changes in the health of the urban forest
  • Monitor the response of the urban forest to natural events such as this winter’s ice storm and the invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer 
  • Identify potential hazard trees to improve community safety 
  • Identify heritage trees and rare/endangered trees that are especially important for protection
  • Investigate species diversity, the suitability of common tree species and the distribution of native vs. non-native species to determine areas for improvement
  • Evaluate effectiveness of strategies from previous report and provide new, updated plans of action
  • Stimulate community engagement and awareness
  • Provide city with information on private trees to improve planning and management
  • Encourage the city to consider developing an urban forest management plan with clear targets and action items

An Urban Forest Management Plan is a document that provides information on the current state of the urban forest, and outlines a detailed, long-term plan for the future. It includes both an overall 20 year plan and shorter term plans that include specific information on goals, proposed tree planting and removal, budgeting, and the roles of everyone involved. An Urban Forest Management Plan is an important planning tool that ensures a greener future for cities. Urban forests cannot be changed in a day-they take time to grow and mature. Therefore, we must start planning today what we want our urban forest to look like 20 years from now. For example, now that we know that Ash trees are threatened by the Emerald Ash Borer, we can start planting new trees around existing trees so that they can replace the ash trees that die or are removed (this is called underplanting). A management plan would also be instrumental in setting specific goals for the city’s urban forest, such as a target percentage for canopy cover. Many municipalities in Ontario have developed Urban Forest Management Plans, and many more will be completing plans in the next several years. We hope to encourage the City of Hamilton to follow suit.