Tree Cutting in Guild Park
Public Recommendations & Information Sheet
Published March 16, 2014
Sad to say, the amount of tree cutting under-way at Guild Park has been dramatic in the past month. It’s extremely unfortunate that a combination of factors have converged on Guild Park to cause so much damage and so much tree cutting in such a short span of time.
This information sheds additional light on an issue that’s complicated, expensive and emotional. This is based on various sources and is distributed to give the public and others background about the large amount of tree cutting now underway at Guild Park. Our Board Members recommend three IMMEDIATE ACTION STEPS for the City of Toronto to take to ensure the long-term revitalization of Guild Park.
- The City Forestry Department to:
- Keep the public informed on the work at Guild Park. In the short-term, ensure informed staff are at Guild Park and/or easily accessible to provide current information about operations on-site.
- Begin regular contact with Guild Park stakeholder groups. These organizations are bringing more activity and visitors to Guild Park. As park “clients”, these groups are committed to revitalizing Guild Park. They also bring informed views on park issues from a citizen and user perspective. Initiate regular meetings and stay in close communication with stakeholders from: Friends of Guild Park & Gardens, the Guildwood Village Community Association, The Guild Renaissance Group, the Guild Festival Theatre, and other like-minded organizations. Such groups serve as Guild Park’s informal ambassadors and communicate effectively to their networks of thousands of members and supporters. The better informed they are, the better the public can contribute positively to Guild Park’s future.
- Hold a series of public meetings before and during each major step/milestone of forestry work. Do this in partnership with the local City Councillor and Guild Park stakeholder groups (identified above). Information to include park operations and work schedules, public access in the park, tree replanting and other items. Hold these meetings at times and places convenient to interested citizens, notably Guildwood residents.
- Engage the public in future tree-related projects. These are activities appropriate for citizen involvement, such as ground clearing, tree planting and watering. Such volunteer projects are already done at other Toronto parks, in cooperation with existing City staff and operations.
- The City of Toronto to:
- Provide the public with relevant information about the Guild Park restaurant proposal. This would be general, non-proprietary information, such as conceptual plans. Release details that won’t affect the City’s ongoing negotiations but show how the proposal will augment the park.
- The City of Toronto, along with other Guild Park stakeholders, to:
- Create a long-term (20 year+), strategic management plan for Guild Park. This public plan and process to be modeled on best practices used to revitalize similar multi-use public spaces, such as New York City’s Central Park. The process covers all aspects of Guild Park – its ecology, legacy and uses. It includes a streamlined decision-making process, based on meaningful and ongoing input from people interested in the Guild Park’s current operations and its future revitalization. Participants to include:
- the City of Toronto’s relevant departments;
- citizens, especially volunteer groups that are Guild Park stakeholders;
- public/private organizations with an interest in active partnerships;
- other park/public space professionals; and
- relevant agencies and stakeholders from other levels of government.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Why are so many trees being cut?
The devastation by the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) at Guild Park and elsewhere in the city has been extensive. The large percentage of native ash trees growing in Guild Park (up to 60% of the forest canopy) caused this 88-acre park, and the surrounding treed neighbourhood, to be hit hard. The dire predictions made as early as three years ago by City of Toronto foresters have come true.
The December 2013 ice storm made this bad situation much worse. Ice collected on the branches and trunks of the already dead and dying ash trees in Guild Park. The weight broke hundreds of these trees and branches. The falling ash trees also damaged nearby healthy trees of all shapes and sizes. Some broken trees and branches caused “snags” so the damaged trunks and branches remained precariously balanced at risk of hitting the ground at any time.
These series of factors created an extremely dangerous situation, especially in a popular park that’s open for public use 24/7.
Forestry in parks requires science AND art
Managing forest land is a long-term project based on both science (ecology, biology, geology, etc.) and aesthetics. Dealing with the underlying science and cutting practices of how the trees are managed requires specialized knowledge and information.
In a popular place such as Guild Park, aesthetics are more obvious and important to park users. Most people understand that a forested park must be managed to sustain its entire eco-system and for public safety and enjoyment. This means park officials must pay attention to both science and aesthetics.
On the science side, City of Toronto officials responded to the Guild Park forest crisis by creating an EAB management plan. This includes the cutting and removing of the dead, damaged and at-risk trees, plus subsequent replanting of native tree species and the care of these new trees. The decisions made in this plan were based on the knowledge and professional opinion of the city’s urban forestry staff and considered the overall ecology of Guild Park.
According to the plan, tree cutting and removal are done while the ground is cold. This minimizes the soil damage that occurs if tree felling and using heavy equipment is done in warmer weather. Also, work in the winter minimizes, though it doesn't eliminate, disturbance to native and migratory wildlife.
The management plan also considered how people use the park. Tree cutting is an opportunity to create space for better trails and other areas of the park. At this stage, second-guessing the decisions and sources used as the basis of those decisions is outside the scope of this information sheet.
Right now, it’s very apparent that aesthetics at Guild Park are taking a back-seat to the cutting, clearing and removal of the trees. According to the City’s plan, this is for the short-term. Future steps for the operation call for removing the felled logs, clearing away the brush and replanting the site. Weather and logistics have delayed removing the logs so that part of the plan is behind schedule.
We note that other parks in Toronto already include public participation for certain aspects of the tree-replanting and care process. In fact, private funding/sponsorship is available through various programs (promoted by the City’s park Partnership Development Unit) for tree-planting in city parks. This aspect of regenerating suitable tree cover in Guild Park with public help isn't part in the City’s current forest management plan for Guild Park. We recommend this be included. (See recommendations above.)
Is all this tree-cutting activity at Guild Park related to building a new restaurant?
Negotiations are currently under-way between City of Toronto officials and a private company (Dynamic Hospitality and Entertainment) to develop a restaurant/banquet facility on the grounds of Guild Park.
These negotiations remain confidential between the City and Dynamic for building a 20,000- to 24,000‑square foot facility using a portion of the Guild Inn that remains standing. This confidential process has continued for more than a year, without public reporting or accountability.
It’s impossible to know whether or not the current tree cutting is related to Dynamic’s plans. Therefore this is a valid concern. The latest information (February 2014) made public about these plans referred to a confidential attachment, which may or may include site and building plans. If site plans were released, that information would show whether or not tree cutting is needed for building a proposed restaurant.
No mention of the restaurant plan was made when the current forest management plan for Guild Park was presented by Toronto Forestry officials at the public meeting on January 9th 2014. That presentation focused entirely on the cutting operations at Guild Park and nearby South Marine Park. The City of Toronto can address this concern immediately by providing the public with relevant information on the Guild Park restaurant proposal. (See recommendations above.)
What’s ahead for Guild Park?
No one is sure. After decades of neglect, the fate of Guild Park is unknown. Reaction to the current tree-cutting shows what happens when major work is done in the absence of a long-term plan covering all aspects of Guild Park – a plan that includes meaningful public input, ongoing communication and accountability.
Urban forests and public parks are too valuable to be left without long-term planning and ongoing management. The massive tree-cutting under-way at Guild Park is also, in part, caused by decades of neglect to the entire site. When nature conspired to wreck havoc on Guild Park’s tree cover, the resulting remedial work was drastic and dramatic. Addressing Guild Park’s issues in a piece-meal, reactive way causes other problems, such as:
- the public and other potential park supporters lack information on which to make informed opinions about how the park is maintained and operated;
- important, non-urgent work for the park’s existing features get overlooked for decades;
- plans for major park improvements that require long-term commitments are made, then left unstarted. The latest example is the 2009 plan for a cultural centre and park improvements. The City has approved partial, long-term funding for this plan, yet has taken no action.
Call for “whole park” plan of action
Best practices exist to operate, upgrade and revitalize major parks. Among the most successful is the long-term work done to restore Central Park in New York City. This work was initiated by a citizen’s non-profit group (the Central Park Conservancy), endorsed and strongly supported by the City of New York and financially supported by interested private and public organizations. Out of Guild Park’s current devastation comes an opportunity to launch a long-term (20 year+), strategic action plan for the entire site. For such a process and plan to succeed, it requires meaningful and ongoing input from:
- citizen and public/private organizations that are inspired to be active partners in future activities at, and related to, Guild Park’s revitalization;
- informed park/public space professionals;
- committed public policy-makers at the City of Toronto, and at other government levels and agencies involved in Guild Park. (See recommendations above.)