Edmonton looking to protect boulevard trees from construction damage

The City of Edmonton is looking at developing new rules to protect trees, particularly those on city boulevards.

'These trees have a lot more value than just the esthetics,' says Parkallen resident

The city is considering a new tree protection bylaw to protect boulevard trees during construction. (Lydia Neufeld/CBC)

The City of Edmonton is looking at developing new rules to protect trees, particularly those on city boulevards.

"When there's infill construction, if you have large heavy equipment driving across that boulevard compacting the soil and potentially damaging the tree roots themselves, the trees will eventually decline and fail," said Crispin Wood, management supervisor of urban forestry.

Three city bylaws cover trees, and fines can be assessed for damage or illegal removal.

But the bylaws don't specify how trees are to be protected, Wood said Monday.

Sometimes it can take a year or two after the end of a construction project to see that a tree has died, he said, and it's difficult for the city to determine at what point in the construction process the tree was damaged.

The city loses 3,000 to 3,500 boulevard and park trees each year, said Wood.
An upgraded drainage line has resulted in the removal of a city boulevard tree in Parkallen. (Jan Hardstaff)

The totals include trees damaged by construction work or vehicles, as well as those affected by drought or disease, and natural mortality, he said.

At an urban planning committee meeting earlier this month, councillors asked city staff to look at options that include enhancing existing legislation, or drawing up a tree protection bylaw.

"It's absolutely a step in the right direction," said Wood. "We are one of the only major municipalities in Canada that doesn't currently have the bylaw."

"We want it to go beyond a bylaw," said Jan Hardstaff, with the Parkallen community league civics committee.

"You break the bylaw and you get a fine, but the fines never really are a deterrent," said Hardstaff.

Under the city's corporate tree management policy, and bylaws, the fines range from $250 to $10,000, but some of the biggest trees are worth up to $60,000 each, she said.

Tree preservation plan needed, resident says

Hardstaff is advocating for a tree preservation plan. It would require a developer to include a plan for protecting trees on a site as part of the permitting process.

"So that we're not starting to construct buildings and then going 'Oh, these trees are going to be in the way,' " said Hardstaff. "We actually could plan around that and consider whether or not these trees are enough of an asset to preserve them."

There is a lot more value to the trees on boulevards than just esthetics, she said.

"They also provide shade and shelter, they take up a tremendous amount of water so it reduces storm water runoff, and they filter air," said Hardstaff.

A report on what steps the city will take on trees will come to the urban planning committee in November.
City boulevard trees are protected with plywood during construction at 109th Street and 80th Avenue. (CBC)