Out on a Limb
September 8, 2015

This column first appeared in the September edition of the All Month Friday AM in Salmon Arm

I’m going to go out on a limb here (pun intended) and suggest that in Salmon Arm, we live in an urban forest.

What distinguishes us from many other communities is the tree canopy that surrounds and protects us. It’s as though the town was conveniently placed at the base of a natural forested amphitheatre from Bastion Mountain to the north, to Fly Hills to the east, Mount Ida to the south and Larch Hills to the east.

Trees are marvels of engineering. From roots, to trunk, bark, limbs and leaves, they reach towering heights in search of light and water to grow. They provide oxygen, act as nature’s air filters, air conditioners and shade from the sun. They dampen noise, nurture the soil and prevent erosion.

Our forest sustains us in many ways. And, as life would have it, sometimes we only appreciate what we have after it’s gone. I refer of course to the the catastrophic loss of reportedly 1,500 trees in Vancouver alone this past weekend during a violent storm on the coast.

In addition to their contribution in their lifetime, they also sustain us when harvested as building materials and, in turn, ensure major employment. Salmon Arm’s largest private employer is Canoe Forest Products. They harvest trees and manage forests. In BC, two trees are planted for every tree cut.

When a tree falls in the forest (maybe you’ve heard), they go on to provide habitat and valuable nutrients for the next generation of trees. When trees fail in urban environment, they need our help. Sometimes we have to move them away, trim them up, treat them for disease or replace them altogether. And given all they contribute, I suggest it makes good business sense.

Speaking of good sense, an emerging field of study called biomimcry addresses the ingenious attributes of nature. Engineers, scientists and businesses tasked with solving complex problems are more often turning to nature for sustainable solutions. From fish scales (that prevent bacterial build up) to coral (which captures carbon and uses it to build shell) to flowers petals (which repel dust and dirt), we have many lessons to learn from the nature that surrounds us. But that’s just a secondary job, the first priority is to contribute to a healthy environment where nothing is wasted (we could learn that lesson too).

Some communities in Canada boast about the economic advantage of their tree canopy. Oakville, aptly named, is a champion in this regard. Oakville is a community approximately 50 kilometres from Toronto on beautiful Lake Ontario. During the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference I attended with Mayor Cooper in Edmonton in June, I went to a workshop hosted by Trees Canada. The Mayor of Oakville outlined the direct correlation between their city’s urban forest policy, the health of the population, their relatively higher family household income and their ability to attract high-paying employers. It was a compelling argument; one that was not lost on me as I drove home from urban Edmonton to my rural neighbourhood of mature trees in Canoe.

Trees work hard to sustain their forest and in turn, sustain us. Might I suggest that a simple take away when faced with a problem within our own environment is to consider the question “what would nature do?”.

“When nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson