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Ice Storm Ravages Toronto’s Tree Canopy as Condos Sprout

Toronto Ice Storm
A worker helps restore power to households that have been without electricity since a major ice storm struck Toronto, December 25, 2013. Photographer: Randy Risling/Toronto Star via Getty Images

About 20 percent of Toronto’s trees may have been damaged by the ice storm that swept eastern Canada, frustrating efforts to green a city with more skyscrapers under construction than any other in North America.

“The need for new trees and new tree planting and more maintenance over the next two years will be high,” said Richard Ubbens, parks director in Canada’s biggest city. “It’s quite possible that 20 percent of the trees are damaged, but that doesn’t mean they’re all coming down, it doesn’t mean we can’t repair the trees.”

As much as 28 percent of Toronto is covered by about 10.2 million trees and the city plans to boost that to about 35 to 40 percent by 2050 to help slow water runoff, pull carbon dioxide from the air and cut energy costs by cooling with shade, according to a report this year by the city’s parks department. By comparison, 24 percent of New York is covered in trees, according to the report.

Toronto’s parks department estimates its trees, dominated by maple, ash and spruce, are worth C$17 million ($16 million) in pollution removal and C$10 million in lower energy costs and reduced carbon emissions.

The trees, many planted in the early 1900s and reaching the end of their lifespan, came crashing down onto power lines during the ice storm that hit the city on Dec. 21, knocking out power to as many as 300,000 customers.

The goal to boost foliage comes as Toronto is in the midst of a building boom, with 152 highrises under construction, according to data compiled by Victoria, British Columbia-based New York has 80 under construction and Chicago has 15, the data show.

Beetle Infestation

The city is already fighting an infestation of Emerald Ash Borer, said Todd Irvine, an arborist who works with Bruce Tree Expert Co.. The pest will have killed 8 percent of Toronto’s trees by 2017, he said.

“Even if this damage is less than 20, it’s still a significant setback,” Irvine said.

Repairing trees will be tough because the city’s tree maintenance budget is too small, he said. In 2012, Toronto cut the amount it spends on pruning and removing damaged trees to C$600,000 from C$1.4 million, according to a budget summary.

“When it’s sunny out and there’s no storm, it doesn’t seem like spending extra money on trees makes a lot of sense,” Irvine said. “Things like this storm will bring this top of mind.”

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