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In early 2017, the Expert Panel on Tree Management under the Greening, Landscaping and Tree Management Section (GLTMS) of Development Bureau was elevated to Urban Forest Advisory Panel. But what is an urban forest?
“Urban forest” includes all naturally grown or planted trees in urban or urban fringe areas, no matter they are on public or private lands. Tree management is mainly focusing on individual or small group of trees’ conditions and risk management. Whereas urban forestry (or urban forest management) is holistic and emphasizes on the sustainability benefit and efficiency of the urban forest to environmental, social and economic aspects, as well as public participation and transparency.
Nevertheless, the Government has not explained and elaborated the urban forest management plan in details so far, but only extracts some related concepts, such as enhancing urban ecology, replacement of trees over their useful life-spans and replacing aging trees, including old and valuable and stone wall trees. It is worrying that all these will become the excuse for not deploying sufficient resources on the management of existing trees, but to promote the removal, which is the easiest “management” mean.
In fact, according to the urban forest management plan in UK and US, it is highly emphasizing on scientific management, including the tree inventory. It is the first stage and most important basis to provide information for budget and work plan to achieve the proactive management. However, the inventory in Hong Kong, Tree Management Information system, has not been working successfully. As a result, the Government can only adopt the reactive fire-fighting style on tree management.
In addition, urban forestry put the promotion on the benefits of the urban forest and transparently involves the public to design, plan, manage and monitor the implementation of the works. Disappointingly, the work of Tree Management Office becomes a very low profile in recent years, and the general public has no idea about their works. It actually violates and walks to the opposite direction of proper urban forest management.
Lastly, to achieve the aim of providing sustainable benefits from the urban forest, it is necessary to maintain trees in good conditions. In recent years, the tree management objective is still risk management oriented. Even for old and valuables trees and stone wall trees were also mainly managed in purely risk reduction manners. Reducing risk of trees is not necessarily improving tree conditions. In contracts, common mitigation works, such as severe pruning is very damaging to both tree heath and structure in the longer term. On 20th May, two 80 years old Banyan trees outside the University of Hong Kong were removed by Lands Department under great public queries, with reasons like the trees growing on wrong places and with high risk. However, such decision was lack of scientifically sound inspection and evidence to support.
Urban forestry is not a slogan, or an excuse to alleviate the works to policy level for avoiding the administrative risk of daily tree management works. Respecting the right to know and public participation are the core elements to be the true urban forest management.
If you want to know more about what is urban forestry, you can visit CA's link.