If you were asked whether or not the City of Hamilton is full of lush forests along with awe-inspiring waterfalls, would you say “yes”?  Or would you surmise that Hamilton is full of factories and as a result suffers from poor air quality and a polluted lake?

In this case, the former speaks more truth than the latter due to environmental organizations working alongside The City of Hamilton. Organizations like Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Naturalist’s Club have been working together to improve the lives of Hamiltonians. Environment Hamilton has many projects on the go to improve communities but in this article we will be taking a closer look at Trees Please Hamilton (TPH), an on-going 3 year collaboration project of Environment Hamilton (EH) and the Hamilton Naturalist’s Club (HNC).

One of the main goals of Trees Please Hamilton is to collect air particulate matter and tree inventories within differing community neighbourhoods that have fewer vegetation present or are located near Hamilton’s industry sector. With this information, TPH can better understand not only where more trees need to be planted, but why some of our trees are not surviving or thriving in certain communities (i.e. the Emerald Ash borer, too much asphalt etc.) and having this data to share with others. TPH, EH and HNC will then take action and plant native species in areas that can help improve overall air quality.

TPH uses Environment Hamilton’s air monitors to collect particulate matter levels as well as conduct tree inventories by using the Open Tree Map online application. One of the first communities TPH started to collect data in was last summer (2016) in the Beach Strip neighbourhood, located along Beach Blvd that runs parallel to the QEW and Eastport; an industry dominated area.

TPH found (myself included as citizen scientist volunteer) that there is an adequate amount of tree canopy and mature vegetation. In fact, in the report released by TPH “A healthy urban forest canopy provides at least 30% coverage when trees are in full leaf; the average canopy coverage in Hamilton is 18% or lower” (Trees Please Report, p 4, 2016). Despite there being enough tree canopy cover in this area, I learned though community feedback provided by local residents, that there tends to be a layer of a black ash like substance that rests on neighbouring cars and mailboxes.

Figure 1 shows the Beach strips tree canopy coverage. This map is from the TPH report and the trees are represented by the diverse shades of green, displaying what a 30% tree canopy coverage looks like with over 500 trees inventoried.

Figure 1: Beach Strip’s tree canopy coverage (Trees Please Report, p 12, 2016)

How was this information actually obtained? The Open Tree map application is accessible in tablet form provided by TPH. Volunteers/ citizen scientists are able to input the information by asking questions, approximately 25 in total. For example, some of the information recorded is the tree species, tree and canopy heights, levels of defoliation and observations of dead or broken branches. This example is simplified as the Open Tree map goes into greater detail and can in turn calculate how much carbon is sequestered out of the atmosphere from one tree being inventoried.

In terms of air quality along the Beach strip neighbourhood, the particulate counts were higher than 2.5PM at times. This could be concerning because “air particulate pollution that is 2.5 microns in diameter and smaller… [can] contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory illness” (Trees Please Report, p 3, 2016). Figure 2 shows the air quality along the beach neighbourhood that is closet to Hamilton’s industrial core.

Figure 2: Air particulate mapping (Trees Please Report, p 16, 2016)

As you can see, even with a healthy tree canopy coverage, the community’s air can still be considered an area of concern.

As a citizen scientist, I would say I over-estimated the air quality along the Beach Strip. While conducting a tree inventory, I thought there was ample vegetation that could help curb the local air pollution.

In conclusion, TPH learned a lot about the Beach Strip community and areas of opportunity to help increase the amount of trees. One strategy was to ask local residents whether or not they were interested in a free tree provided by the City of Hamilton, a part of the City’s Street Tree Planting program. Another opportunity took place this September, where TPH was able to assist EH and the HNC with their shoreline planting project. This project is to help mitigate erosion along the beach strip that was noticed while spending countless hours in this neighbourhood. This project will be discussed in the next article.

By Candice Hood

Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.