The City of Fredericton wants to know how many trees there are in the city, what species they are, and how best to manage them in light of rapid development, population growth and invasive pests.
And it's paying a consulting company $80,828 to find out.
Councillors have agreed to hire Stantec Consulting to embark on the creation of an "urban forest plan" for the city.
Richard Hall, a forester with the city, said the plan would for the most part "legitimize" and suggest improvements to some of the programs Fredericton already follows for tree-planting, pruning and other maintenance.
"The consultant we have chosen has also proposed that they take a really good look at our tree planting list in terms of species [of trees planted].
"With climate change on the rise, development pressures and also invasive pests — emerald ash borer being one — we need, we need to ensure the resiliency of the of the forest as we progress into the future."
Once known as the "City of Stately Elms," Fredericton has seen its elm population decimated since the 1950s by dutch elm disease.
More recently, the emerald ash borer, a tiny invasive beetle capable of killing ash trees within a few years, made its way into the province in 2018, and has since been found in trees in Fredericton.
Hall said the plan will also involve measuring the combined area of the city's tree canopy and potentially setting guidelines around planting new trees to replace any canopy that is lost because of development.
Differing ideas on scope of plan
The decision by the city to come up with an urban forest plan is being praised by advocates, but there are conflicting opinions on how broad in scope it should be.
Andrew Steeves, chair of the Fredericton Tree Commission, said the plan will be valuable for informing city crews on how best to maintain the tree cover on city property, but it shouldn't give the city the power to tell private property owners what they can and can't do with the trees on their land.
"Maybe this will come out when we have our public meetings with the the urban forest plan, you know, because we are going to be asking for public input," Steeves said.
"But I don't think people would welcome having too, too much intrusive municipal activity, you know, restricting on what they do with their own property. Like I say, within the balance of public health and safety, it's your property."
Kathryn Downton, director of Trees Matter Fredericton, a grass roots advocacy group, said the plan would be incomplete if it lacked any guidance for preserving some trees on private property.
WATCH | Climate change, pests, development prompt push for new trees plan
"If we pave over five acres for parking lot, that's five acres that's not absorbing water during a flash flood, that's five acres where there's no trees that are taking in carbon dioxide," Downton said.
"And so the best urban forest plans have a combination of a private-public focus."
Hall said the plan will involve measuring the area of tree canopy on both private and public property, but jurisdiction over any tree does end at the city's property line.
Hall said for now, the city has set a timeline for Stantec to present staff with an initial draft of the plan by the end of October.
According to a Fredericton city staff report, Stantec will also be required to conduct public consultation as part of its work putting together the plan.