We (NQCC and the Townsville Tree Advocacy Group) have been fielding quite a lot of questions and concerns from our community regarding the removal and harm of trees on Council land.
It has been twelve months since Townsville City Council adopted their Public Tree Management Policy, so we thought it was a good time to take some of these questions and concerns to the Council staff responsible for the care of our urban forest and learn more about how the Policy has been implemented since October 2021.
On Thursday 22 September, we sent a letter containing a list of questions relating to Council's Tree Policy and a meeting request. On Tuesday 18 October, we sat down with Reece Wilkie (Parks) and Jim Stainwall (Open Spaces and Environment) to have our questions answered and gain some insights. Below is what we learned.
The Tree App:
A tree app is currently being used to record data on Townsville’s trees. This is a high priority item on their agenda. It has not reached its full potential yet and can’t extract information easily nor filter data into a register yet, but these functions are expected to be ready within 12 months.
When arborists are sent out to expect trees, they add the details to the app, so entry is currently random. Any time that they have leftover is spent adding more trees to the database. This is pretty slow going, as information can currently only be entered by the three arborists employed by Council. They hope to extend this task to others within Council who have relevant knowledge of trees, to help speed up the process.
It is expected to take a few years to fully populate the database, and the expectation is that this will then be an ongoing process to revisit trees and update their health status, etc. This will provide valuable information in many circumstances, for example identifying trees that fare well following cyclones, droughts, floods, etc. It can also be used in future to measure canopy cover, as this is currently unknown.
The app can also be accessed (or will in future) by contractors, such as Ergon, who currently collect their own data on trees that are under power lines. They are interested in collaborating on data, which should have some mutual benefits.
The data collected in the app is not currently available to the public, and there are no immediate plans for this to change. We expect that once it is developed further, community members may be able to request information from the database.
Questions/topics we raised prior to the meeting:
Significant trees that have been saved thanks to the policy:
- We were assured that significant trees have been saved, but it is not possible to currently filter and extract that information from the tree app. One example they gave us was the treatment done on an 80 year old Alstonia scholaris in Queens Gardens that was developing a crack in the trunk
- Having parameters for identifying significant trees (as per the Tree Policy) has helped decision-making around their removal or protection
- Definite point was made: Just because a tree is considered significant, this does not mean that it can be protected and will not be removed if Council wants it gone because of public safety or interference with Council infrastructure.
Offsets and new plantings (what has been planted where?):
- This hasn’t started yet. A panel of contractors is being selected, with planting expected to commence before the end of 2022. The contractors will be responsible for maintaining new plants for 26 weeks, after which this responsibility is handed over to Council.
Rate of net canopy loss/growth in the Townsville LGA over the past 12 months:
- This is currently unknown but will be easier to determine once the tree app database is populated and then into the future.
Effectiveness of notification of planned tree removals (e.g. public signage):
- Current method is to letterbox nearby residents – how far this extends depends on the significance of the tree and the scale of impact expected on the neighbourhood. Who makes these decisions is unclear, and it doesn’t sound as though they have a framework for measuring this.
- Signs aren’t often used. We suggested that this be considered, given that people may notice/ appreciate/ value trees even if they don’t live nearby.
Alternatives that have been successfully utilised to prevent the removal of trees (e.g. root walling, changes to surrounding infrastructure):
- Boardwalks over roots at Pallarenda
- Concrete root walling in Horseshoe Bay
- Currently educating civil & construction workers on how to protect roots and when to call an arborist
Significant trees that have been removed and what alternatives were sought:
- No clear data easily extracted on this, but assurance was provided that if a tree satisfies criteria as “significant”, many things have to be considered before removal is executed
Any changes being considered to the policy:
- It is their opinion that it’s currently working well, and expect that if any changes are made, these will be as practical and to strengthen trees’
Community responses to the policy:
- We mentioned community concerns and distress about the removal of significant trees on private and public land i.e. Alstonia scholaris (North Ward carpark), Tamarind (Queens Road) and the proposed removal of the Corymbia tessalaris (Horseshoe Bay).
- They told us that: they have no say over trees on private land; the heartwood was damaged on the Tamarind; the Corymbia does satisfy significant tree values but it sounds as though they plan to remove it because it is too close to the gutter and driveway.
Progress on a Significant Tree Register:
- This is a top priority for the tree app
- A register is being built following the process outlined in the Tree Policy.
Any local trees of historical and cultural significance that have been identified:
- No response on this, but should be available through the app once it is developed further.
Other things we learned:
- A passive watering, tree planting experiment is currently being undertaken in Mill Drive using water captured from the road They will be trialing Mimusops at this site.
- “Friends of Botanics” is a community engagement and education program that invites locals into Botanic Gardens to learn about local plants and how to care for them.
- Tony Draper from Ergon supports a more proactive approach – i.e., ensuring that only suitable trees are planted under power lines. TCC would like an MOU with them to improve practices around tree removal, but nothing yet.
- Prosecutions for tree damage have occurred in the past under Local Law 4
This team receives complaints, assesses them and then passes their reports to compliance to deal with tree vandals.
- Currently three arborists (2 arborists and 1 apprentice) are employed by TCC, but there is no Senior A Hope to have one by the end of 2022.
- They are working with the Civil and Construction Teams to educate them around trees and veg management inline with the Tree Policy.
- The new Townsville City Council City Plan contains changes to laws that developers will have to follow. This team is working with Planning to update the Development Manual to change what is approved by Council in regards to native and significant vegetation. This will (hopefully) make it harder for developers to behave the way they currently do (vegetation clearing etc.). The new manual should be out in about 6 months’ time.
- There has been a significant investment in the Tree budget / Policy in the last two years and that a decent figure was also allocated for trees in the 2022-2023 budget
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this ongoing campaign to protect, nurture and grow Townsville's urban forest! Especially big shout out to the active members of the Townsville Tree Advocacy Group who are always happy to contribute in whatever way they can!
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