By Charlie Senack
Gentle Ways for Our Planet is a small organization looking to make a big impact.
On Sept. 24, they made their mark in Barrhaven by planting 125 trees in Neil Nesbitt Park. The new “urban forest” as it’s called, will offer a new home to birds and young animals while bettering the environment.
“We know from City of Ottawa reports that Barrhaven and Hunt club have low tree canopy coverage,” said Aida Warah, founder and executive director of Gentle Ways for Our Planet. “They proposed Barrhaven and we said sure. We want to help rebuild urban forests and increase tree coverage.”
Barrhaven has the second worst tree canopy growth in all of Ottawa, reports show, with many of its suburban streets lacking places for shade. Tree coverage currently sits at only 23 per cent, but aims to one day soon reach 40 per cent.
Warah retired early from her public service job to dedicate her time to environmental issues. That’s when Gentle Ways for our Planet was born. The former University of Ottawa professor created the planet-action group in 2019 after seeing the picture of a whale that washed up to shore with 15 kilograms of plastics lodged in its stomach.
“Our focus and mission is to work with individuals,” said Warah. “We don’t lobby the government or organizations. We want to urge individuals to take environmental action to reduce their carbon footprint and general footprint on the planet.”
Efforts ramped up just as the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to in-person advocacy. Their mission is to have everyone reduce their carbon footprint by 50 per cent in the next eight years.
Warah would also like to plant one million trees by 2030, a goal she’s realizing might be hard to accomplish.
The 125 native trees were planted in Neil Nesbitt Park by youth from the Lebanese-Canadian community and various church groups.
“It was really awesome, everyone had a great time, and they are still talking about it today,” said Warah. “We only had 125 trees and I wish we had 500. We have plans to plant more trees in the spring, if not next fall.”
Christina Thompson, who lives near the park, said she’s asked the city many times to plant more trees in the Old Barrhaven neighborhood.
“Trees are such an important part of fighting climate change,” Thompson said. “Having an entire new forest planted right in our community will show our kids and grandchildren that we can make a difference.”
Mayor Jim Watson, who was on hand at the tree planting event, said the city has increased efforts to plant more trees around the suburbs.
“The city of Ottawa is proud that it’s coming up close to 500,000 trees planted this term alone,” he said. “We saw just a few months ago the devastating storm where we lost literally thousands and thousands of trees.”
In the Pine Grove and Pinhey’s Point forests owned by the National Capital Commission, it’s expected 70 per cent of their tree canopy was destroyed during the May long-weekend Derecho storms.
The forested area on both sides of Slack Road near Woodroffe will never look the same again and will take decades to regenerate. The straight lines of red pines were planted in the 1960’s and 70’s to one day be used as utility poles. The damaged and fallen trees take up about 170 hectares of land.
Due to the loss of mature trees and the need already to plant more, Warah said urban forests make communities more vibrant for everyone. “Forests are great everywhere, but urban forests don’t just promote the wellness of people, but of all living beings,” she said. “They help rebuild habitats. Spending time in nature promotes not only physical health but also mental health.”