Proposed Tree By-Law Update

July 22, 2010

I have received several inquiries about the status of the “Private Tree By-Law” that was presented to the Community Design and Environmental Services committee this past Monday.    I am happy to try to add some clarity….

The recommendation in the Tree By-Law report contained 5 clauses.  Clauses 1, 2 and 4 were moved and seconded and supported unanimously.  These three  clauses were to:  a) receive the report,  b) approve amendments to the existing large lot tree preservation by-law and c) amend the user fee schedule to implement the amended large lot tree by-law.

Clauses 3 and 5 were to:  a) enact a tree by-law for small lots (less than 0.2 hectares) and b) to bring forward a plan to fund implementation of the by-law in the 2011 budget.

Clauses 3 and 5 were not moved or seconded by any member of the committee (as Chair, I cannot move or second motions).

Therefore, the committee (including myself)  did not vote “against” or to “remove” anything.  A Guelph Mercury article is quoted as saying that the committee “voted to remove the provisions of the private tree bylaw dealing with regulated trees on small lot sizes”.  This is not accurate – because the small lot tree by-law never made it to the floor to be voted on.

So where does this leave the small lot Tree By-law? Only the motions ratified at committee (Clause 1,2 and 4) will go forward to Council on July 27.  However, at that meeting, any member of Council could choose to add Clauses 3 and 5 back in, or add them in as separate motions.

In the past, I have publicly stated that I support the protection and preservation of our urban canopy. I still do.

But there are many ways to do this – the small lot private tree by-law is not the be-all-and-end-all — it is one potential tool of many.

The city must “walk the talk”  too – planting more trees on public land, better maintenance practices, increased naturalized areas, etc.  I also believe the majority of residential property owners understand the benefits of planting and maintaining trees and are excellent stewards of the urban forest.

The goal behind the tree by-law has merit — to increase the city’s canopy to 40%.    A healthy urban forest has immense public benefit – air quality, temperature regulation, energy use reduction, etc.

So the question remains — does the proposed small lot tree by-law do anything to help the city reach its  stated outcome of 40% canopy?    Is it too much “stick” and not enough “carrot”?  Are there better ways to achieve the 40% goal,  such as education, tree planting incentives,  free trees, etc.?      Should we focus more effort on those areas with 10% coverage like industrial and commercial lands (ie. parking lots, my personal pet peeve) ?  Residential neighbourhoods are not the problem.  I suspect the canopy in R1 (small lots) residential neighbourhoods is well over 50%.    (I am working on getting additional info on this. )

It’s still a year away, but the Strategic Urban Forest Master Plan will answer many of these questions.  Many municipalities have stronger tree preservation by-laws than the proposed Guelph one.  Many municipalities have no tree preservation by-laws.  Are we not doing enough or going too far?

I welcome your thoughts, as always…..

LP