Last week, on National Tree Day (Sept. 21), NDP MP Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe) announced her Private Members’ Motion proposing the development of a federal leadership strategy to preserve, protect and promote urban forests for their life-giving value to Canadian communities.

Given that much of our national identity is tied to the natural environment, I encourage all Canadians to read this motion and show your support in any way you can — tell a friend, call your local MP, post something on Facebook. After all, we all know the old “if a tree falls in a forest” saying – this issue is far too important to let fall on deaf ears.

As Ms. Mathyssen notes, urban forests positively impact 85 per cent of Canadians, yet the federal government does not currently exhibit any interest in protecting them. Canada is significantly behind other G7 countries in the value we place on urban forests, especially the U.S., where management of urban forests falls under the responsibility of an individual equivalent to a Canadian deputy minister.

Speaking of “the value” of trees, I would like to applaud the City of Hamilton for a creative National Tree Day campaign that placed price tags on 150 trees around the city to show the true value they bring to the community. Tallying up all the environmental and aesthetic benefits — things like energy conservation, air quality improvement, CO2 reduction, stormwater control, and property value increase — you might be surprised to learn that many of the price tags were well over $20,000 per tree.

This year, Canadians showed up in record numbers to National Tree Day events held in provincial and territorial capitals across the country, planting trees and demonstrating their support and commitment for our forests. These are Canadians who realize our urban forests are too important to neglect or ignore.

Ms. Mathyssen’s motion (M-68) calls on the government to affirm its leadership role in urban forest knowledge, management and protection — and the need for this “protection” couldn’t be more evident. In 2001, Toronto had 860,000 ash trees throughout the city. Today, it has under 10,000 thanks to the emerald ash borer. This invasive insect from Asia has spread rapidly across eastern Canada and is now within 700 km of Winnipeg, MB!

There’s also of course the mountain pine beetle, a tiny bug about the size of a grain of rice that has destroyed millions of pine trees in the forests of B.C. and towns like Prince George, B.C., and is now threatening some of Canada’s top tourist attractions, Jasper and Banff National Parks in Alberta.

And who could forget the horrifying visuals from Fort McMurray this spring when wildfires destroyed roughly 2,400 homes and buildings, forcing more than 80,000 people from their residences for nearly a month. In addition to the 580,000 hectares of scorched earth (larger than the entire province of P.E.I.), more than 10,000 community trees on private property and community parks were lost, including thousands of mature boulevard trees which now must be replaced.

Tree Canada, a national, not-for-profit charitable organization, has been helping communities recover from floods, hurricanes and invasive pests for more than a decade, including our recently launched Operation ReLeaf Fort McMurray, but we need the help of Canadians now more than ever.

With our increasing urban population and an increasing number of floods and forest fires due to climate change occurring across the country, the need for a national forest strategy is clear. We must preserve our urban forests before it’s too late.

Support M-68 and urge the federal government to come into the 21st century byfinally adopting a national urban forest strategy for Canada.