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Proposed bylaw aims to protect County trees

By Sharon Harrison
“Trees that get planted on municipal property are a public asset… We want to protect our public assets,” said Sarah Crawford in response to an agenda item on tree protection at last Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting.

A tree planting volunteer, and part of the Neighbourwoods team, Crawford said there’s “trees that the County spends money on -both hard money, and soft money like people’s time – and there’s been hundreds and hundreds of people, and thousands of people hours involved in planting trees. We the tax-paying people who are doing this want these public assets protected.

“They are assets that will beautify the community and protect us against climate change. Even if it’s a drop in the bucket, it’s a positive step forward. Please recognize that trees on municipal property are public assets.”

A deputation by Susan Banks and Victoria Taylor, representing the Natural Cover Working Group (a sub-committee of the Environmental Advisory Committee) addressed council regarding tree protection in the County. “And we have a nice group of supporter tree huggers here,” added Taylor, referring to the full public gallery.

After some debate, agreement was reached (with councillors Pennell, Nieman and Prinzen voting against) to direct staff to explore the creation of a tree protection bylaw to strengthen the existing tree policy, in conjunction with the site alteration bylaw.

In January 2021, a new tree policy was passed by council described by Banks as “a big step forward for the County recognizing the value of trees to the community, and their role in mitigating climate change.”

The policy goal is conserving, maintaining and increasing the tree canopy of the County and Banks said a large part of the policy involves tree protection.

She said it should be noted that the policy covers municipal trees in settlement areas (Picton, Bloomfield, etc., not in rural areas), such as parks, cemeteries and street trees, and trees on private land in settlement areas, subject to an application under the planning act.

Providing some background, Banks outlined that in 2021, County staff were hired with a role to play in environmental concerns, and an arborist to care for trees. She further explained in October 2021, Tree the County mobilized volunteers and obtained grants to plant trees.

“To date, over $12,000 has been raised with the co-operation of local businesses and grants from Tree Canada with the hope for the future, and a desire to see these trees grow to maturity,” she said.

Community volunteers agreed to water and mulch the trees for two years, with County operations staff providing water, water totes and mulch, as well as contributing a dozen trees to the effort.

In the last three years, 50-60 trees have been planted by community volunteers.

Banks also addressed the issue of damage and neglect of recently-planted trees, noting five trees were damaged in Delhi Park, having had their bark torn off by mowing equipment, and mower tire tracks across the mulch around the trees.

“Staff are revising contracts to ensure there are consequences to damage to trees. In future, consequences should be in place for careless damage, such as this.” Banks suggested a tree protection bylaw would strengthen these consequences, and would ensure inspection of newly-planted trees, and fines for damage and replacement.

She also provided further examples of damage to municipal trees (and the metal cages surrounding), including along Picton Main Street, due to careless parking and snow clearing equipment, as well as examples of damage in other areas during construction, for example.

“Street trees are subject to a lot of abuse,” she said, adding how the trees “will shade the very hot street in the summer –and it’s only going to get hotter”.

Councillor Roy Pennell said council has to move cautiously and be “very realistic” when it comes to setting-up policies surrounding trees.

“I certainly appreciate the ability to protect as many trees as possible in the County,” said Pennell. “The only thing that becomes a concern to me is that through the years, a lot of trees have been placed far too close to sidewalks and particularly under hydro lines, and sometimes it becomes necessary to put new sidewalks in where there were a lot of trees where the roots were exposed when putting those sidewalks in.”

He also reminded council of the “many rural roads in this County that are overgrown so much by trees, we are going to have no choice but to take them out and to replace them”.

Councillor Phil St-Jean said having a tree bylaw in some cases was “a little bit draconian” when it comes to fining people and demanding arborists’ evaluations”.

“I think expanding it at this point in time is a bit premature. We have a site alteration bylaw coming that would cover a good chunk of this and I would see any future tree bylaw as adding some teeth to that,” said St-Jean. “Some of this crosses a line for me and somewhat violates people’s right to enjoyment of their own property.

“I’m not saying no; this is too soon and we should wait until the site alternation bylaw comes to us.”

After some confusion by some members of council on property rights and tree replacement on private property, Wallace reminded that “the existing tree policy doesn’t affect individual land owners or rural lands.”

And again, the CAO further clarified the tree policy does not apply to individuals. She said if the tree policy was turned into a tree bylaw (as was being proposed), “it will not have any effect for land owners; it doesn’t have any effect in the rural areas, it doesn’t have any effect in the towns for individual land owners.”

“It would only impact if the tree was on municipal land, like in the boulevard or on a road allowance, or in a park, or if it was as part of a lot being sub-divided and going through planning approvals.”

Taylor added, the existing policy does not cover rural areas, and “we want to strengthen the existing policy with bylaws.”

Wallace further confirmed that if the motion to propose exploring a tree bylaw passes, staff would do the two projects (the other being the site alteration bylaw) in tandem, for efficiency and clarity.

CAO Wallace clarified the site alteration bylaw has a much shallower impact than what has been described by the deputants, as the site alteration bylaw will apply to all properties everywhere and have less of an impact.

“There is a lot of misconceptions of how far a site alteration bylaw could go, so doing the work in tandem will save us time,” Wallace said.

Councillor Phil Prinzen wasn’t in agreement with the tree bylaw proposal.

“As a municipality, we know what’s right, and we try and do what’s right,” he said. “I hate putting more bylaws in place. As a municipality, we don’t need a bylaw to tell us what’s right and wrong. I won’t be supporting any further bylaw strengthening.”

Banks added that she would like Tree the County to continue planting trees, and to continue to get grants that are “saving the County quite a bit of money on trees, and also saving the County money on labour.

“I don’t want to see volunteers disappointed and put off by the lack of tree protection, and I would urge you please to consider this bylaw.”

Victoria Taylor stated the current tree management and preservation policy should become a tree protection bylaw as it formalizes a process that supports the County’s climate emergency mandate by applying fines for non-compliance, ensuring tree protection, and ensuring replacement.

“Secondly, the overall goal of this, to ensure long-term healthy tree canopy for the County’s future, and those are what’s guiding this.”

Taylor added that the tree protection bylaw should include the following six points: permits, tree protection, enforcement, tree replacement, training, and inspection and maintenance, where she touched briefly on each.

For permits: Applications for permit for removal and permit for injury will be required, prior to construction on municipal land, and on land in settlement areas with an application under the planning act (exemptions would apply for dead ash, or diseased trees, and permit applications would require an arborist’s report).

For tree protection: Trees identified for preservation in a vegetation plan must be protected, as noted in the guidelines.

For enforcement: Inspections by a bylaw officer will be required through the project timeline to monitor trees under permit, and to ensure work is carried out according to the tree policy guidelines. Damage to a tree on municipal land would also incur penalties, and replacement would be required when necessary.

For tree replacement: Requirements for tree replacement based on size and an arborist evaluation. A deposit may be required by the property owner to ensure compliance.

“You can see this is like putting some teeth into the policy, and making sure that it is followed, and effective.”

Training: All staff and sub-contractors who work, or design with and around trees, in the development division, in parks and in operations, would require training in best arbour culture practices in tree management and to know the County tree policy.

Inspection and maintenance: All newly-planted trees will be properly cared for for two years as per the tree policy. This means watering during periods of drought, and with protection maintained around the trunk (either mulch or plantings) to ensure longevity.

All new plantings will be inspected to ensure maintenance practices are being followed. All land owners must properly care for any replacement trees planted under permit or outlined in a vegetation plan, and fines again for non-compliance will apply.

“If there are tree protection bylaws formed, the Natural Cover Working Group (which includes people with expertise), they would like to be included in the development of this bylaw,” added Banks. “We have people who are a forester, two landscape architects, a naturalist, and we have three people who are involved in the ad-hoc tree policy advisory committee, so we do have quite a good background to be involved.“

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