When Joyce Kilmer wrote the poem "Trees" in the early 20th century, it was an act of romanticism, a treatise on the wonders of nature, and a populist link back to the earthy transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau. A hundred years hence, his sentiments have become even more salient as the importance of forests—and their crucial role in the health of the planet—has become much more urgent.
“Trees are a key player in how we’re going to survive the climate crisis,” says David Tracey, author of the Vancouver Tree Book. “They take carbon out of the atmosphere, they clean the air, and they’re our best ally in the fight against climate change. The simplest, quickest, most beautiful—and maybe cheapest—solution is to plant trees.”
With his comprehensive new field guide, Tracey details more than a hundred locally-found trees, with hundreds of striking full-color photographs. Providing full coverage of both native and imported varieties, he offers up a hugely informative cross-section of Vancouver’s urban forest, as well as civic tree tour maps and a history of area trees from early logging efforts to today’s Greenest City campaign.
A community ecologist and activist, Tracey’s close connection with trees dates back to his days at UBC, where he studied landscape architecture.
“I realized pretty early on that smaller stuff I put in, flowers and perennials and shrubs, were going to come and go but the trees—those choices were going to outlast my lifetime and maybe even many other lifetimes. It was important to get the trees right.”
Long an advocate of connecting with nature, Tracey notes that it’s especially important for those who live in the concrete jungles of large cities. Fortunately, the launch of the Vancouver Tree Book coincides with the City of Vancouver’s Tree Week, with plenty of opportunities for locals to get involved through talks, walking tours, and tree sales.
As Tracey stresses, private citizens are needed when it comes to meeting the City of Vancouver’s goal of planting 150,000 new trees by 2020. It was something he worked toward as executive director of Tree City, and its offshoot, Treekeepers, which partnered with the city and sold more than 9,000 trees to Vancouverites over the past three years.
“The city understood early on that if they’re going to get anywhere near this goal, they’d need private property owners to take part,” says Tracey. “After all, something like 62 percent of the canopy is on private land.”
Foresting programs in major population centres are key, Tracey reveals, because the population shift from rural areas to cities has reordered life across the planet.
“The environmental problems we have are city problems,” he explains. “They’re taking up all our resources, creating all the pollution, and yet we’re becoming an urban species, with more than 50 percent of the world’s population living in cities [In Canada, it's over 80 percent]. We’ve become city people, we’re never going back.”
Luckily, Tracey notes, the growing conditions in Vancouver—which he calls “the tree-geek capital of the world”—are extremely favourable.
“We’re a paradise for trees. We actually have one of the best set of conditions in the world for growing them, and that’s why some of the largest trees ever seen on the planet were grown right here. We have these long growing seasons and mild winters with plenty of moisture, no extremes, and it supports a really incredible selection of trees.”
Still, even with such favourable growing conditions, growing the urban forest will require a new level of engagement.
“We have to be eco-urbanists,” Tracey says. “We have to find ways to get past the disconnect that we’ve had with nature for the last couple of generations, and recognize ourselves as being part of nature. If people get involved in their environment they’ll understand it, realize what’s at stake, and defend it.”
David Tracey will read from and sign copies of the Vancouver Tree Book at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (April 6) at Book Warehouse (4188 Main Street).