More mature trees saved under City of Edmonton's new policy

Edmonton’s urban forest may flourish in the future with new measures to prevent trees on city streets from being damaged. Since July, the city has required a tree protection plan from developers before they’re given a permit to build.

About 200 tree-protection plans have been put in place since July, city says

New city policy requires builders to put a fence around trees that are at risk of being damaged during construction. (City of Edmonton)

Edmonton's urban forest may flourish in the future with new measures to prevent trees on city streets from being damaged.

Since July, the city has required a tree-protection plan from developers before they're given a permit to build. 

Crispin Wood, supervisor of urban forestry, said 200 tree-protection plans are in effect around the city.

"We're already starting to see the impact of this across the city, with tree protection to our specifications," Wood said. "I can see them on my drive to work now."

Infill and other projects often require access to city property, which could be the grassy area between a sidewalk and a road.

The city supplies guiding documents that outline specifications.

"They've essentially fenced off the area of boulevard around the root plate of a tree," Wood said.
Urban forestry manager Crispin Wood says 200 developments have protection plans for trees on city property. (City of Edmonton)

"If you've got the trunk of the tree, the canopy of the tree — any area on the boulevard on city property — we want to see that fenced off."

Wood said the city is trying to make it as straightforward as possible.

"Our infill compliance team can then go out to site and verify if the plan has actually been put into effect."

'A dog's breakfast'

He said a year ago, protecting urban trees was a bit of "a dog's breakfast."

"Everyone knew they needed to protect the trees and they were trying their best, but our guidelines certainly weren't rigorous."

He said now that the city has measures in place to explain requirements, more developers are participating.

"We're not looking for anything too onerous. We want to make this as simple as possible, so that we have compliance." 

But enforcing the provisions is still a challenge, as some developers know what needs to be done while others need guidance.

"We can't be there watching every single development all the time."

Wood said the city is working on providing more information and guidance to developers because not everybody has the same awareness of tree health.

"A home builder ... they're not necessarily a botanist or an arborist, so they don't understand the needs of the tree, they don't realize what they're doing is causing damage."

Wood said the city will ramp up its communications with builders to make sure they're aware.

"It doesn't take driving over the root plate of the tree with a large piece of equipment too many times before you actually incur a significant amount of damage to that tree."

He said damage can take years to show, and a proactive approach to preventing damage will save the city money.

Calls for a bylaw

Calls for stiffer regulations aren't new.

Some councillors, including Michael Walters, have asked for a comprehensive, stand-alone bylaw on protecting trees.

Community leagues and tree advocates also chimed in with calls to save canopies in mature neighbourhoods, such as Parkallen, Glenora, Grovenor and Highlands.

Edmonton doesn't have one specific bylaw. Wood said tree protection measures are scattered among several bylaws, making it confusing for the general public to access.

The tree protection report posted online said the city's parks and roads department will meet with the city's law branch to discuss the possibility of a tree protection bylaw.

City councillors will have a chance to voice concerns at the city's urban planning committee on Nov. 29.