New tree canopy study shows increase in Toronto’s tree population

Toronto City Council today adopted a report on Toronto’s tree canopy that shows the city’s urban forest canopy cover and tree population have grown over the last decade.

In general, the results of the tree canopy study are encouraging. The City’s investment in Toronto’s urban forest has grown from an annual budget of $31.1 million in 2008 to $68.7 million in 2018, for a total 10-year investment of $605.6 million. This commitment to maintaining, sustaining and growing the urban forest has directly supported the positive findings and trends described in the 2018 Tree Canopy Study.

The City plants approximately 120,000 trees on public lands each year. The City also supports private tree planting and stewardship initiatives, resulting in more than 20,000 new trees planted on private property to date. Efforts to expand Toronto’s urban forest constitutes a valuable investment in the city’s future.

The study’s findings give staff the opportunity to evaluate what has changed in Toronto’s urban forest through a comparative analysis of the results of the first study, which was carried out in 2008. A summary of the 2018 study findings demonstrate that over the last 10 years:

  • Despite the intense challenges experienced by Toronto’s urban forest, Toronto’s canopy cover and tree population grew. Canopy cover increased from 26.6 to 28 per cent in 2008 to a range of 28 to 31 per cent, while the tree population grew from 10.2 million to 11.5 million.
  • Street trees make a significant contribution to the urban forest, with a 25 per cent increase in the number of the trees rated as good or excellent. Street trees provide $1.277 million in ecosystem services each year.
  • The composition and condition of the urban forest has changed. While there was a slight increase in the proportion of larger-growing trees, the percentage of invasive species increased in parks and ravines.
  • Impervious land cover such as pavement increased by 1.4 per cent across the city.

These findings have informed the City’s Ravine Strategy Implementation report and help support the City’s overall resilience to climate change.

The City’s Strategic Forest Management Plan 2012-2022 recommended that a canopy study be undertaken every 10 years in order to effectively monitor the urban forest. The study findings will be used to inform the City’s urban forest programs and an update to the Strategic Forest Management Plan. The 2018 Tree Canopy Study was undertaken by a consultant team made up of Lallemand Inc./Bioforest, KBM Resources Group and Dillon Consulting Limited in collaboration with the City and stakeholders.

The City continues to recognize the importance of the tree canopy. Council reaffirmed a 40 per cent tree canopy target by 2050 as part of its commitment to protecting the local economy and ecosystems, and improving Toronto’s resilience to climate change.

Future decisions to grow, protect, and enhance Toronto’s urban forest will require partnerships, robust policies and a commitment to protect the growing space for urban forest expansion. City staff will continue to review the findings, analyze both positive and negative trends, and use them to inform ongoing urban forestry planning.

Parks, Forestry and Recreation has produced a public-friendly document called CanopyTO to share a summary of the 2018 Tree Canopy Study findings. CanopyTO is available at https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2020/ie/bgrd/backgroundfile-141367.pdf.