Tara Bergeson

Trees cover 23% of Kelowna’s land base, according to the city’s urban forestry technician, Tara Bergeson, above. She’s standing on aptly named Maple Street, which is lined with big shade-producing, pollution-eating and oxygen-producing maple trees.

Tara Bergeson tilts her head skyward and declares trees awesome.

“Well, there’s the esthetics of trees,” said the City of Kelowna’s urban forestry technician.

“There’s nothing like walking down a street and being shaded by beautiful trees and hearing the rustling of leaves.”

Plus, trees regulate temperature.

“They have incredible temperature-reduction abilities, which are so important in these times of global warming,” said Bergeson.

“They absorb a lot of water, including storm water, and when they respire, they create cooler, humid air. In some cases, this, combined with shade, can reduce the need for home and business air conditioning by half.”

Trees also absorb air pollution, especially harmful carbon dioxide, while returning to the atmosphere fresh oxygen for us to breathe.

This makes the news that 23% of Kelowna is covered in trees so thrilling.

In forestry lingo, it’s called urban canopy cover.

To qualify as a tree or contributing to the canopy, the trees, including orchard trees, or shrubs, have to be at least three metres high.

That means vineyards aren’t considered part of the canopy, but they do look lovely, have the same pollution-eating and oxygen-producing properties and yield grapes that are made into wine.

In 2007, an urban forest effects analysis found that Kelowna’s tree canopy was 13%.

The city’s Sustainable Urban Forest Strategy and Official Community Plan set the goal of 20% urban canopy cover by 2030.

A recent light detection and ranging study using data from planes flying overhead, done for the Okanagan Basin Water Board, puts Kelowna’s tree coverage at 23%.

“Yes, that is overachieving our goal 11 years early,” said Bergeson.

“But there’s still work to be done. Natural and upland areas are compensating for our downtown and more urban areas, which sit at 12.4% tree coverage. We need to develop some innovative solutions to bring up our numbers in these lower percentage areas.”

Every fall, the city plants up to 400 trees to offset natural and accidental losses.

The city leaves as many trees as possible standing and cuts down trees only when they are a safety hazard.

The city is also constantly planting street and park trees.

However, the largest number of trees in urban areas are on private residential, commercial and industrial properties.

That’s why encouraging homeowners and business owners to plant more trees on their property is so important.

The 10-year-old NeighbourWoods program sees around 500 trees sold at a subsidized price of $40 each at an event every April.

The trees are two to three metres tall and in the past have included three types of maples, Japanese lilac, oak and white ash.

You can check out the Kelowna.ca/NeighbourWoods website for online pre-order, event and planting information.

You don’t have to wait until spring to plant.

The fall is also an ideal time to buy a tree at a local nursery and plant it, not just for its good looks, but for all the environmental benefits.