In a first step to saving the urban forest, Brampton taking stock of its trees 
Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer Files

In a first step to saving the urban forest, Brampton taking stock of its trees 

At a Committee of Council meeting on January 31st, City staff were directed to begin the procurement for a tree inventory service to identify and index the millions of trees across Brampton over the next five years.

The city is home to over 3.6 million trees covering roughly 18 percent of Brampton’s land area, according to its 2023 Tableland Tree Assessment Guidelines report. Its urban forest tree canopy has been “significantly impacted” by the Emerald Ash Borer invasion and is still recovering from the devastation caused by the 2013 ice storm. With the ongoing loss of trees and rapid urban growth, the City is trying to gain a better understanding of these critical natural heritage features in an effort to better protect them from harm.

“The tree inventory will provide the location and specific information such as tree species, size, and health of City-owned trees, including the presence of forest pests or diseases,” a City spokesperson told The Pointer in an email. “This information will guide the City to ensure Brampton's urban forest's health, resilience and biodiversity while also informing tree-planting programs.”

Taking inventory of its trees is part of the City’s Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP), a document meant to guide council and City decision-making around its urban trees over the next decade. The plan was approved in 2022.

Brampton's urban forest consists of trees and their surrounding lands on public and private property. The Region of Peel’s urban forest canopy cover study found Brampton's cover in 2015 was roughly 18 percent, or 4,902 hectares, which is “lower than the average (25[percent]) among selected communities in and around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA),” attributed to a combination of “agricultural greenfield lands and newly developed communities-still populated by relatively young and small trees—across the landscape.”


Brampton’s street tree population is dominated by only three species, constituting a low rate of biodiversity.

(The Pointer Files)


The resilience of an urban forest depends greatly on tree diversity. The more diverse, the stronger an urban forest is able to fight off pests and withstand external stressors like drought. For Brampton, data is still limited, which is why the City is working to complete this 5-year street tree inventory. But preliminary data highlighted in the UFMP report suggests the municipality’s tree diversity is “relatively low,” and its street tree population is dominated by only three species. The Norway maple makes up 20 percent of trees, littleleaf linden makes up 12, and 10 percent are honey locusts. The remaining half are dominated by maple, ash and spruce trees, the report states. 

This data is based off of a 2011 study, but two years after it was conducted a large number of trees were damaged or destroyed in the 2013 ice storm. Brampton’s ash trees have also been severely hit by the Emerald Ash Borer beetle infestation, an invasive species which can kill an ash tree in only a few years. According to the City’s Natural Heritage System Restoration Program (NHSRP) report, an estimated 28,000 street and park trees have been affected by the Emerald Ash Borer infestation and an estimated 50,000 trees were damaged or destroyed during the ice storm. 

“The loss of Brampton's ash trees demonstrates the need for increased tree diversity in the urban forest of the future,” the UFMP report states. 


An ice storm in 2013 caused massive damage and loss of Brampton’s trees. The majority were located along roadways or in city parks.

(City of Brampton)


Trees play a critical role in removing air pollution in cities, on top of other benefits like creating shade, which can bring down temperatures and reduce cooling costs—something crucial for Peel municipalities which are warming at twice the global average—and provide habitat for wildlife. They also contribute to controlling stormwater runoff and flooding reduction, and can lead to higher property values and improved mental health.

Large trees, the UFMP report highlights, remove around 10 times the amount of air pollution than small trees and can store 75 times more carbon. Yet in the 2011 study, Brampton's urban forest had a much higher proportion of small trees than recommended. 

“A significant contributing factor to this tree and age size distribution may be the relatively recent development of many greenfield neighbourhoods in the city, which are still largely populated by young trees which have not yet grown to large stature and maturity,” the report states, emphasizing the importance of ensuring “high-quality tree growing environments are designed and built in the early stages of community planning, and the importance of maintaining and protecting existing mature, healthy trees.” 

Staff at the meeting told council that street trees and parks are where the inventory efforts will start—the first phase of work where funding is currently available—and eventually other areas with City-owned trees will be assessed as well, although those future phases “will be awarded pending funding availability, subject to yearly approvals in the Community Services budget.”

Funding for environmental initiatives have traditionally been a first item to be chopped from yearly budgets under Mayor Patrick Brown.  Following the election of Brown in 2018, spending on environmental initiatives and the City’s master plans associated with its natural heritage were cut from successive budgets and commitments have only been met with lip service and not followed by action. 

In 2019, when Council declared a climate emergency, the symbolic gesture did little to change how the municipality operates. In the same meeting, council members, led by Brown, thumbed their nose at the commitment moments later when they endorsed the PC government’s Highway 413 plan to construct a major 400-series thoroughfare along the west side of the city and across Caledon.

In 2022, Brampton’s lack of commitment to climate action was made abundantly clear when council members approved a budget that invested more in a single road project than all of its climate initiatives combined.

A similar lack of funding and transparency around how Brampton’s environmental plans will come to fruition was observed in the 2024 budget as well

The UFMP report notes that on top of the present challenges Brampton’s trees face, the effects of the climate crisis will become greater in the future, putting increased emphasis on proactive planning and investment in the urban forest’s establishment and maintenance. 

Brampton’s rapid growth and continued urbanization is also a reason to take action, with the report highlighting an “increase in roads, sidewalks, parking lots, and other paved surfaces, combined with below-ground infrastructure and construction impacts,” will reduce the amount of available space for trees to grow and thrive. Recently built communities can also have insufficient soil volumes or soils that are compacted, along with other factors that may reduce the size and lifespans of trees, with the report noting that policies and design solutions must be geared toward improving growing conditions in urban areas. 

According to Brampton’s natural heritage report, the city has a number of invasive species, including buckthorn, garlic mustard, dog strangling vine and phragmites, which have a significant population in its woodlands, wetlands and valleylands. The removal of these species which pose a threat to native plants and wildlife are “vitally important to the City’s efforts to improving the diversity and health of Brampton’s natural heritage system.”

On top of the damage invasive species can cause by outcompeting indigenous species and degrading ecosystems, Brampton’s trees can be impacted by diseases like oak wilt or Dutch elm disease, which are a risk to individual trees and entire populations. 

The UFMP report states that “building urban forest resilience through diversity and maintaining tree and ecosystem health will reduce Brampton's susceptibility to these threats and buffer the effects of future infestations.” 

The report states a public procurement will be held to find a service provider to conduct the tree inventory. The amount this service will cost taxpayers is not included in the report



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