Toronto’s ravines are in dire health. Bette Midler’s NYRP may provide an example to get them back to health

The Star
Toronto’s ravines are in dire health.
By PATTY WINSA, Data Reporter
Mon, Dec. 31, 2018

Bette Midler gardening

In 2007, then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg planted a Carolina Silverbell on a street corner in the Bronx to launch MillionTreesNYC, a 10-year plan with an ambitious goal to plant nearly 10 times as many trees as had been planted by the city in the previous decade.

Standing beside Bloomberg was Bette Midler, who was lending star power and more than $30 million (U.S.) to the effort through New York Restoration Project, a non-profit she founded in 1995 to create green spaces in densely populated areas of the city that lack adequate municipal support, according to the organization’s website.

No one really knew then if the million trees campaign would succeed, but the last tree went into the ground two years ahead of schedule, a success due in part to Midler’s philanthropy and a citizen army of 50,000 volunteers who planted more than one out of every five saplings.

Both components — private donations and public engagement — are part of Toronto’s ravine strategy, which was adopted by city council in 2017, but which has failed to get the same kind of support as the million trees project, which was funded largely by New York City.

In 2019, Toronto’s parks, forestry and recreation department will report to council on what has been done to implement the ravine strategy, created to find ways to bolster the ravines, which are suffering from the effects of global warming, urban development and invasive pests and plants.

Then, the state of Toronto’s canopy will also be known, thanks to a study — done every 10 years — that was conducted for the city by outside consultants in the spring and summer of 2018.

Meanwhile, the news on ravines has been dismal — some of our greenest spaces decimated by foreign invaders such as Norway maple and Japanese knotweed, their diminished biological diversity threatening the local survival of small wildlife species and the ravines themselves said to be on the verge of ecological collapse.

In New York City, staff turned to volunteers to tree plant after their budget for forest restoration was cut from $11 to $3 million in 2009.

But when they did a cost analysis, they found it was considerably more expensive to use volunteers. The expense of recruiting and training, plus the need to clean up the forest areas prior to planting so people didn’t stumble over tree limbs and logs, made it more expensive than if they were using staff or other professionals, says Jennifer Greenfeld, the assistant commissioner of forestry, horticulture and natural resources for New York City.

However, they do use volunteers to count street trees. During the last census in 2015, more than 2,200 volunteers participated in counting and mapping trees using a software program, which become part of a database that the New York City parks department uses as a planning tool.

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