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Published on Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Private tree protection by-law toughens

Urban canopy loss drives update of Oakville's private tree bylaw

Private tree protection by-law toughens
Oakville town hall
By Nathan Howes, Oakville Beaver

Cheered by some, jeered by others, an updated private tree protection bylaw got the thumbs-up from Town council Monday, May 1.

The regulation is part of the Town of Oakville’s efforts to curb, what it deems, unnecessary removal of healthy trees and to preserve urban canopy.

The Town first adopted a private tree protection bylaw in 2008, regulating the removal of trees from private property, but allowed owners to remove as many as four trees per year, measuring 20-76 centimetres in diameter each, through notifications, and without a permit and replanting.

Significant canopy was lost annually through allowing the notifications, according to an April 7 Town staff report.

When tallied, between 2012-2016, the tree removals represented more than one per cent canopy loss.

There have been 280,270 square metres (6,300 trees) of canopy loss in the five-year period, which excludes dead, emerald ash borer (EAB)-infested and hazardous trees.

Under the new rules, permits replace notifications.

Property owners who wish to remove trees from their property will need a permit and may also be required to plant new trees to replace the lost canopy.

The new regulation was approved and adopted after a lengthy discussion at Monday’s Council meeting.

“Oakville’s urban forest provides incredible environmental, economic and health benefits to our community,” stated Mayor Rob Burton, in a media release.

“It is critical that we protect and grow that urban forest for future generations, which Council is seeking to do by strengthening Oakville’s existing private tree protections.”

The permit fee for the first tree removed measuring between 15-24 centimetres in diameter will be $50.

Additional trees sized within the range, or the first exceeding it, will cost $325 per tree.

The Town estimates it will require about 1,235 new permits a year and generate close to $394,00 in annual revenue.

The costs didn’t sit well with some of the delegates at the meeting.

Michael Boulanger, certified arborist and forestry technician, stated the permit fees are too high and suggested a cap on them, as they will be “astronomical” for some residents – an issue shared by others in attendance – if there is no limit.

Councillor Cathy Duddeck asked Town staff what the criteria is to help those who have financial hardships and may not be able to afford the permit and tree replacement costs.

Chris Mark, director of Parks and Open Space, suggested it would use the same conditions it has for its Recreation and Culture programs.

If people can provide financial documents to the Town, which may be obtained from Halton Region, the Town would “entertain that type of transparency” showing their struggle to help cover a tree-permit fee, Mark said.

As a condition of the new permit, one tree must be planted for every 10-cm DBH (diameter at breast height) of healthy tree removed.

A $300 security deposit is required for each tree to be planted, which will be refunded once an inspection of the replacement plantings is complete, according to the Town.

Replacement trees must be planted on the same property as those removed, if possible.

If there isn’t adequate space on a property, a common complaint heard by Council Monday, residents can donate the deposit to the Town to plant it on a nearby municipal-owned site.

The minimum tree replacement size is a 30-milimetre caliper (three-cm width) deciduous tree or a 150-cm-high coniferous tree in a five-gallon container, balled in burlap or in a wire basket.

Another concern brought forward by delegates Monday was lack of a consultation process on the amended bylaw.

Boulanger charged that arborists, such as himself, were ignored during the public discussions.

“We feel we haven’t been consulted as a professional group over this bylaw, properly. We would like some time for that to take place before the bylaw is voted on,” said Boulanger, who presented Council with a petition from nine arborist firms opposing the bylaw.

Councillor Marc Grant suggested to Boulanger the best solution is to pass the bylaw now and continue to consult afterwards, as it can be adjusted.

He said the town is going to lose much more of its tree canopy if “we sit on our hands.”

Councillor Sean O’Meara asked Town staff to get clarification on the consultation process.

Mark said the new bylaw has been in the works since 2014, when Council directed Town staff to review it to identify stronger protections for the urban forest.

Staff examined other municipal private tree protection bylaws and hosted numerous public meetings to gather feedback from residents and stakeholders.

Mark noted the open houses were attended by residents’ associations and arborists.

It was a “very thorough consultation process,” he told Council.

Under the update bylaw, the absence of advance notice and approval continues for imminent-risk trees in the updated bylaw.

Trees deemed high-risk will be inspected by Town staff within five business days.

A consultation meeting will be held this month with arboriculture companies about licensing, but it’s expected certified arborists and related firms will be required to be fully licensed with the Town by this fall, Mark told the Community Services Committee April 24.

While there was plenty of negative reaction to the bylaw, some delegates shared a positive view on it and encouraged Council to approve it.

Oakvillegreen Conservation Association president Karen Brock said the group supported the bylaw because it is an important policy contributor for meeting tree canopy targets.

She stated the bylaw is one “tool in the toolkit” to preserve the canopy.

Bob Laughlin also advocated for the protection measures because “we can’t afford to wait another day,” he told Council, and called for the removal of notifications.

The updated bylaw now requires the following:

• All removals of trees greater than 15 cm will now require a permit issued by the Town, as well as all trees required to be retained or planted as a condition of an approved site plan

• A permit fee will now be charged for all removals, except for dead, high-risk Asian long-horned beetle- and EAB-infested trees or a buckthorn species

• Property owners are now required to post a tree removal permit at the site where the tree is being removed a minimum of five business days prior to removal

• Residents applying for the removal of high-risk trees will now have to provide an arborist report and the tree(s) will be inspected by forestry staff within five business days following receipt of a permit application

• Where an extreme risk tree has been removed, the property owner will be required to notify the Town and provide supporting documentation.

• The proposed bylaw retains the automatic permission to remove a tree or part of a tree that poses an extreme risk where the likelihood of failure is imminent without prior inspection by Town staff. Staff will be reporting back to Council further on this matter.

• There are now new conditions of approval requirements for tree replacement

• Tree-planting requirements have been made much more practical for residents who are required to replant a tree(s) as a condition of tree removal.

Staff will report back to Council by early fall on the removal of trees covered under emergency work without prior Town staff inspection; and in 12-18 months to give an update on the bylaw’s implementation and metrics.

For more information on the bylaw, visit www.oakville.ca/residents/private-tree-protection.html.
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Author: Mayor Rob Burton

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