Local volunteer leads plan to save Ottawa’s tree canopy

By Denise Deby –

Chris Henderson opened a recent public meeting of Tree Ottawa, a new community-led initiative to protect and restore the city’s trees, by asking people to reflect on their favourite tree.

“Everyone knows a tree or trees that are important to them,” says Henderson, a Westboro resident and the lead strategist for Tree Ottawa. Tapping into people’s connections with trees is a must, given Tree Ottawa’s goals of engaging hundreds of thousands of residents and planting a million trees by 2017.

Environmental consultant and leader Chris Henderson is behind an ambitious plan to protect Ottawa’s trees. Photo by Denise Deby.
Environmental consultant and leader Chris Henderson is behind an ambitious plan to protect Ottawa’s trees. Photo by Denise Deby.

Henderson explains that Tree Ottawa is “a collaborative platform” that will bring together and build on the efforts of residents, organizations, businesses and government to protect trees, plant trees and promote tree habitat. It’s a response to tree loss in Ottawa due to the emerald ash borer, severe weather and urban development.

“Tree Ottawa will offer all kinds of ways for every single person, wherever they live, whatever their age, whatever their interest to be involved and to be a part of creating a better tree canopy,” says Henderson. “We’ve identified dozens and dozens of really creative things where people can get involved.”

Through Tree Ottawa’s Adopt-a-Tree program, for example, people will be able to sign up to look after a nearby tree. They’ll find an online guide to planting native tree species. When Tree Ottawa launches its interactive website this spring, they’ll be able to search for a community tree-planting event or a group that shares their interests.

“We’re not going to make the community greener and more ecological by planting a tree at a time—we need to do that, but it’s not enough. We have to connect with each other,” says Henderson.

Henderson is no stranger to bringing people together to address environmental challenges. He’s established and led environmental and sustainable energy companies, and last year published Aboriginal Power: Clean Energy and the Future of Canada’s First Peoples, which draws on his experience working with Aboriginal communities. Henderson, along with his wife Andrea Prazmowski and sons Isaac and Noah, is an active community volunteer. He heads 1000 Solar Rooftops, a group of Ottawa businesses and non-profits, and organized the 2012 3i Summit on Sustainability, where the idea for Tree Ottawa was born.

“Nothing typifies nature in quite the way trees do,” says Henderson, but there’s another reason for his interest in trees.

“It’s an entry for people to get involved more actively in environmental and sustainability activities,” says Henderson, noting that people can feel daunted by switching to renewable energy or addressing climate change. “People in my view do have a desire to have a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. But they often don’t start that journey. Tree Ottawa is a way to get people involved with helping preserve and protect our environment, and realize it’s not a hard thing to do.”

Tree Ottawa, a five-year initiative budgeted at $985,000, is co-ordinated by Ecology Ottawa. Volunteers, participants and funding are welcome, says Ecology Ottawa community network co-ordinator Karen Hawley.

For information go to ecologyottawa.ca/tree-ottawa.

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