Page 4854 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 11 November 2009

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I would like now to talk briefly about the crucial role of trees for the environment. Trees can reduce the heat load of the city. The CSIRO has documented the relationship between greenery, greenhouse gas emissions and heat stress. The conclusion is that the more greenery in a suburb the less the heat output and so the smaller the contribution to global warming.

Research from the University of Melbourne made a conservative estimate that about 10 tonnes of carbon are contained in each mature tree and, when the tree is cut down, eventually that will be released into the atmosphere. If you multiply that by the million trees that we are talking about, that is a lot of carbon emissions.

So the government must also look at how it uses the timber from the trees that it removes. My understanding is that at present this is very ad hoc and the trees are largely chipped. We need to look at sustainable uses for the timber to lock in carbon, such as using it for construction or speciality timber or furniture. The trees also contribute very positively to local micro-climates—the climate in each block and street—because they create shade for people, shade that helps our gardens flourish and shade that attracts frogs and lizards to gardens.

The Greens say that the government should prioritise environmental factors in tree management decisions. What we and many of the community fear is that the government will let economics, aesthetics, or even convenience, override the environmental considerations. Certainly, it may be cheaper and easier in the short term to forge ahead and cut out whole blocks of trees, or whole streets of trees, or to disregard community concerns, or to manage risks simply by removing entire trees. But we want to see a balance which prioritises environmental issues.

My motion calls on the government to ensure that local communities are thoroughly consulted in all urban tree removal and planting activities and encouraged to participate in decision making in relation to any major tree work in the local area. Unfortunately, that is not the case at the moment. I am encouraged that the government has put a moratorium on south side tree removals because of the community outcry. It needs to use this time to review the processes. I have discovered that residents whose houses adjoin the trees that are going to be removed are notified either directly or by a calling card, or sometimes there has been consultation or notification in advance by a letter, but the letters have not come from the government and they have not been addressed to the residents individually. So these calling cards and letters get disregarded in the collection of junk mail and people feel that they were not told anything about it in the circumstances.

The government’s current guidelines also do not provide for notification if a dead tree is removed, but dead trees are important habitats for native birds and other animals and the presence of this wildlife is something that local communities value. We need also to do much better than this after-the-fact notification. We need to be more proactive. One simple suggestion is that we erect signs at trees which are scheduled for removal, in the same way as ACTPLA does for DAs. That would mean that at least people who walked past the trees might be aware of what is happening and can comment on it before it is too late. The government’s new community noticeboard

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