If you Google “urban forests” you will soon see that almost every city in Ontario has some kind of urban forest program underway aimed at increasing the percentage of tree cover in the city. In Hamilton’s built-up area, the percentage of forest is 18 percent, but when the entire city and suburbs is taken into account the urban forest accounts for 28 percent of the total land area. The goal for Hamilton is to increase overall tree coverage to 35 percent by 2035.
John Taylor, Hamilton’s superintendent of Forestry and Horticulture has a staff of over 50, who do everything from tree planting, tree replacement, tree maintenance, removal of dead and diseased trees and now, something called “asset management.” Under asset management forestry staff have blocked the city off into a grid plan and are systematically counting every tree, measuring it and recording its condition. It is a massive project that will take eight years.
Diversification of tree species is a key part of the plan in order to guard against epidemics of tree infestation that can wipe out entire tree populations over a short period—think of Dutch Elm disease a generation ago, or the Emerald ash borer epidemic that is a scourge of urban forests today. These epidemics are not a new phenomenon says Taylor, “at the turn of the last century 25 percent of Hamilton’s forest was chestnut trees—not they are virtually all gone.” The city is hoping to reduce the prevalence of any one species to no more than five percent of the total. The city now maintains an inventory of 40 separate species of trees which are available to be planted on city property in residential areas.
The department has developed an arboretum in Waterdown at Johnson Tew Park. Planting will begin later this year. Many Hamiltonians may not realize that Gage Park is actually Hamilton’s first arboretum. There are currently over 100 species of trees in Gage Park, some quite rare, including some copper beech trees in a fenced area just inside the park at Gage Avenue near Maplewood that are believed to be 200 years old.

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