New urban logging case highlights need for strict new rules, councillors say

Just months after a developer made headlines by taking down 40 mature trees on a North York building site, CBC Toronto has learned of a second illegal "clearcut" - this time in an affluent Etobicoke neighbourhood.

34 trees 'clearcut' in upscale Etobicoke neighbourhood

Thirty-four trees were illegally removed from this backyard in Etobicoke during the Labour Day weekend, city staff say. The owner is facing almost $6,000 in penalties. (CBC News)

Just months after a developer made headlines for taking down 40 mature trees on a North York building site, CBC Toronto has learned of a second illegal "clearcut" - this time in an affluent Etobicoke neighbourhood.

Coun. John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre) and city forestry officials say that in September, a homeowner on North Drive cut down 34 trees in his backyard without a permit.

The cutting happened in a part of his backyard that's been designated a ravine area by the city, which means no trees can be removed without permission from the urban forestry department, Campbell said.

"It was a pretty severe clearcut that went on there," Campbell told CBC Toronto. 

Yet after the Labour Day weekend, the city received a complaint that dozens of trees had vanished from the property, and piles of firewood had appeared in their place.

Edith George, a self-described "tree-hugger," was concerned about the removal of dozens of trees at a property in Etobicoke. (Mike Smee)

"I was devastated," said Edith George, who reported the downed trees to the city. "I was appalled that somebody would go ahead and cut down dozens of trees without even considering the ... tree bylaw."

In July, a developer working on Bayview Ridge in North York destroyed 40 trees without permission from the city, angering local residents and the area's councillor, Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West).

The two incidents highlight what city forestry officials and Robinson say is a growing problem: developers and homeowners illegally cutting down trees on their property, rather than applying for a permit.

In this photo by Edith George, piles of lumber sit in a backyard on North Drive in Etobicoke just after the Labour Day weekend. (Edith George)

During an October meeting of the parks and environment committee, urban forestry staff said they've received more than 1,200 complaints of people illegally damaging trees so far this year, yet they have only been able to investigate half of those complaints due to a staff shortage.

"Staff are so overwhelmed," Robinson told CBC Toronto on Monday. "There's so much development and intensification in the city, and I would say the biggest victims are the trees."

The city is continuing its investigation into the felling of 40 trees by a developer on Bayview Ridge in North York in July. (CBC)

In October, the parks and environment committee passed her motion to have city forestry officials determine how widespread the illegal logging problem is, and recommend measures to curb it. She said she'd like to see the city levy much higher fines against offenders, suspend building permits and issue stop work orders on the spot.

On Friday,  the city's budget committee voted to ask council to approve the hiring of six temporary arbourists to help clear up the backlog.

Max Dida, a supervisor in the city forestry department's west district, confirmed Monday that inspectors determined the North Drive homeowner had violated one of the city's tree bylaws by removing 34 trees.

Homeowner faces $6,000 in penalties

He has been ordered to pay almost $6,000 in penalties, and plant more than 100 trees to make up for the damage, Dida said. 

In the Bayview Ridge case, the developer, Format Group, has been fined just over $155,000, but the investigation is ongoing, Robinson said Monday.