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Aug. 17, 2019 | Saturday
Editorials and Opinions
Opinion: New tree bylaw encourages us to chop down young trees
This old Chautauqua oak is one of NOTL's prized local trees. (File photo)


The following is an edited version of a letter to NOTL council. A copy was submitted to The Lake Report for publication:

My takeaway from the town's private tree protection bylaw open house is that we now have a law to punish private property owners who allow trees to get bigger than five inches in diameter.

If an owner allows a tree to become greater than five inches, the control of that tree shifts to the town with the additional burden to the property owner of permit fees, inspections, arborist reports and a minimum of $500 should the owner wish to remove the tree. Take away:  if you don't want government interference in your yard, cut down all trees approaching five inches in diameter.

No consideration is taken for the numbers or density of trees on the owner's property. Should the tree be healthy, no consideration is given should the tree become too big for the property or negatively impact the property or a neighbor's property. (Other than dead or diseased trees, the main exemptions under the bylaw are 13 weed or nuisance trees, such as the black alder, cottonwood or Siberian elm.)

There are no incentives to allow a tree to grow, only disincentives.

As a tree grows larger, the penalty for removing the tree continues to increase, starting at $500 and going to $3,000 per tree. So, if an owner has any thought that a tree will need to be removed, do it sooner than later.

To implement this bylaw the town will have to hire a full-time arborist: every privately owned tree in our urban areas over five inches will need an arborist inspection and report should you want to move or cut down the tree. Impact on staff time is unknown, but if we estimate there are 5,000 single-family homes in our urban areas and each property has only two trees, then the number of trees the town must supervise is a minimum of 10,000.  And many , if not a majority, of the properties have far more than two trees each.

Will this bylaw save big trees? Big trees impact sizable areas of land. The value of land in NOTL that a tree impacts is far greater than the maximum penalty of $3,000 to cut down a really big tree. Developers will just pay the penalty and pass the cost along to our already overpriced market.

Private owners wanting an addition to their house or even a backyard patio won't be happy but they to will pay the penalty and make sure no further trees will grow over five inches. Of course, the town can raise the penalty to even greater levels, but that will only reinforce the incentive to cut trees down sooner than later.

The introduction of the bylaw cites its authority to create this bylaw as "trees within the municipality are valued (for many good reasons)..." But this bylaw exempts over 90 per cent of the town's geographical area. Rural areas where trees have space to grow are exempt, and of course town land is exempt. Only our "urban areas" are affected – areas which, of course, have smaller lots and where large trees can become a nuisance.

Having a nice tree canopy is a good thing and for the most part the town has a great one because town council and our public works department have done a wonderful job of maintaining and replanting trees in our street boulevards and parks. Just as important, we have a populace that cares for the esthetic of the town and have planted and maintained numerous trees on their private property. 

Besides the fact that this bylaw is counterproductive, I am saddened that this new town council has seen fit to take the control of of citizens' personal property and penalize them for the concern and care that they have given to their trees.

I urge you to repeal this bylaw.  If the above logic does not convince you, let me relate the bylaw's impact on my 40-by-200-foot property (ie. very small property) in Old Town:  

I have several large trees on my property.  In my back corner is a 100-foot high tree that lost a 45-foot branch in a wind storm several years ago. The branch took out two fences and fell 15 feet into a neighbour's yard.  Another neighbour demanded that I take down the tree because he thought it was  likely to fall and take out his entire house. My wife had cancer at the time and I couldn't deal with the problem, resulting in the neighbour calling me many names and no longer speaking to me.

Around that 100-foot tree I have several smaller trees, which I have been nursing for the past 20 years, to fill in the area when the big tree goes.  Those trees are 15- to 30-feet tall and about four inches in diameter – I will be cutting them all down.

The estimate for removing the 100-foot tree (just the tree, no stump) is $4,000, which I was prepared to do. However, the bylaw will penalize me an additional $3,000. So what I will do is spend $50 to have the town arborist come and proclaim that the tree is healthy and that I should not be allowed to remove it without penalty. I will inform my neighbour and when the tree falls down, he can sue the town rather than me.

In my side yard, I have a beautiful spruce tree that has been trying to grow through another neighbour's second-storey window. The neighbour keeps cutting the limbs back because 50 years ago he had a tree fort in the tree and has memories. But the tree is just too big for its location. What we could do is cut away all the limbs from the ground up to 20 or 30 feet, but it would look stupid and make it extremely top heavy and prone to snapping in the wind. The bylaw wants to penalize me $2,000 for removing this tree.

And I have several more large trees.

If you feel that our local government must tell private property owners what to do about their trees, I suggest that you create incentives to keep and grow trees. A simple starting point is to implement a minimum number trees or canopy per lot (or square metres) for developed properties, existing trees will then become an asset rather than a liability. 

Scott Hanson