City looks to toughen tree rules amid deforestation 'crisis'
Proposals include demanding compensation for felled trees
The City of Ottawa is looking at toughening its tree bylaws to halt the worrying trend of urban deforestation, and that could include demanding compensation from developers and homeowners who flout the rules.
There are currently two separate tree bylaws, one dealing with trees on municipal property and another aimed at protecting trees on private property.
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In the decade since that second bylaw was enacted, "the steady pace of development and infrastructure projects, together with disease, has resulted in noticeable tree loss in the urban area," according to a discussion paper released by the city.
Paul Johanis, chair of Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital, calls it a "crisis situation."
"Trees are coming down fast, not just through age but through construction, renovation, infill," said Johanis, who was consulted as part of the bylaw review. "The policy framework just doesn't take into account ... this greater intense development in the core, which is really leading to a huge loss of trees."
Retain, replace, renew
Under current rules, property owners whose lot is larger than one hectare must obtain a permit before cutting down any tree with a diameter of 10 centimetres or greater. On smaller private property, a permit is needed only for trees with a diameter of 50 centimetres or greater.
In an effort to "retain, replace and renew" the urban tree canopy, the discussion paper proposes several ideas including:
- Lowering the minimum diameter for "distinctive" trees from 50 centimetres.
- Developing "clear rules around permitting."
- Requiring a "permit to work around trees."
- Developing "tree compensation requirements."
The discussion paper also proposes "earlier consideration of trees in the development process."
Other proposals include harmonizing the separate tree bylaws, developing a heritage tree program, "robust monitoring and transparent reporting," and ongoing training and education for staff, developers and residents.
'We need more trees'
Johanis said he'd like to see the minimum diameter for distinctive trees lowered to 20 centimetres for conifers and 30 centimetres for broadleaf trees.
"They're afforded way more protection when they're considered distinctive, so we think that's an important change in the policy," he said.
Trees that are removed must be replaced, and the city must continue planting new trees to reverse deforestation, the discussion paper says.
"If we're hoping in some ways to slow down and eventually reverse concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, we need more trees, we need more things that absorb carbon dioxide, and that's what trees do," Johanis said.
Johanis said Greenspace Alliance and other environmental groups in the city have put together a petition with a number of other recommendations. They're aiming for 400 signatures, and already have 319.
Ottawa residents have until Sept. 9 to tell the city how they feel about the proposed changes to the tree bylaws.
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