A GOOD urban forest plan comes from a GREAT public consult
Updated: Apr 9
This week, City Council viewed a proposal to work towards an urban forest management policy (UFMP) over the next 3 years. For the many community voices who have been pushing for Fredericton to join the majority of North American cities that already make public and private urban nature decisions this way, it was a moment to celebrate.
A particular shout-out goes to Mike Glynn, the forester at the head of Parks, who put together an excellent presentation. Mike is responsible for moving this project forward, and he’s going to need our help.
Because what happens next is a face-off worthy of Canadian hockey rinks everywhere. Who is going to control this puck? In other words, what do we mean by “public consult”?
Being latecomers to the game means we’ve already seen the highlights reel, and we have a pretty good idea of what cities do next.
There’s the A) “In Name Only” consult model, involving a couple of online surveys leading to some canned multiple-choice questions, all launched from behind the “public engagement” firewall.
There’s B) “City Risks a Couple of Events” model, where concerned citizens are invited to earnestly or angrily say what’s on their minds. And then it all gets archived. And a couple of guys in Operations write up the plan anyway.
And finally, there’s C) the “All-In” transparency model, where right from scratch, a genuine multi-stakeholder committee is struck to define and guide a real process designed to get real input that genuinely shapes a community-informed outcome. Interestingly, this model is the easiest to find online because these brave cities have posted every messy step of the way, having decided from the beginning that the best consults are the backbone of the best plans.
But, listen. I understand why cities opt for Options A or B. Coming from years in health care, I know that shifting from “Because I Told You So” is not easy. As staff, you dream of the day when your vision statement is not just a pretty phrase, and all the voices who hold an important—no, a VITAL piece of the puzzle—have a REAL SAY. But negotiating different perspectives and interests is messy. And systems don’t like messy. Our desk calendars and weekly to-do apps don’t like messy.
The thing is, Fredericton needs a good UFMP. No, we need a great UFMP that is both visionary and practical, that captures the science and the best energy and experience of our community.
Because what’s coming is not pretty. What’s coming is more extreme weather with too much water and wind and heat. And then not enough. What’s coming are post-Covid budgets when choosing city priorities is going to be brutal. And what’s always been a problem is the phone call from a “someone who knows someone” that buys more than a fair share of access to City Hall’s ear.
What Urban Forest Plans do is set out The Rules for everybody, in advance. They define what happens when it’s “development” vs critical habitat conservation, or green vs grey infrastructure dollar choices, or historic and significant trees vs the very human desire for a new use for a public or private space.
Having a plan based on robust consult means making the best possible evidence-based decisions IN WRITING. Something that all departments and all stakeholders refer to equally.
We have so much expertise and experience to draw on in our community. At Trees Matter Fredericton, we’ve already started the pre-game as we continue our free online speakers series on all things urban forest, and begin to roll out community consult events.
In the next few weeks, you can join:
Dr. Tom Beckley from UNB’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Management who will address the real human complexities of getting to an UFMP when you have 10K+ bosses in a city (Mar 22).
Dr. Peter Duinker, Dal Professor Emeritus and one of the movers and shakers of getting an UFMP into Halifax in 2006, who will be speaking about what (really) happens AFTER the plan (Mar 29).
The Emerald Ash Borer Info event, the first of what we hope will be regular community conversations gathering expertise and experience (Mar 25).
It’s ok we are coming late to the game because we have the advantage of hindsight and we know what needs to happen next.
Let candidates running for Council and the Mayor’s job know Fredericton has already chosen Option C. Ask them if they are ready to support a great consult leading to a really good plan.
UFMP Fredericton. Game On!
Learn. Love. Protect. Connect!
Kathryn Downton, Executive Director
Trees Matter Fredericton