Private Tree By-law Review

Oakvillegreen’s Position on the Private Tree By-law:

  • Data from the last 5 years demonstrates that Oakville’s private tree by-law has been largely ineffective.
  • To this end, approximately 1% of Oakville’s tree canopy has been LOST, many HEALTHY trees continue to be removed, and most trees are removed WITHOUT ANY REPLANTING or compensation.
  • Oakville’s urban forest has experienced a LOSS of trees and canopy cover, contrary to the goal of the private tree by-law.

We NEED a Strong Private Tree By-Law: Oakvillegreen recognizes that in order to continue to be seen as leaders in urban forest stewardship and achieve our stated 40% canopy cover goal by 2057, we need a clear, well supported and effectively implemented private tree by-law. Much of Oakville’s tree canopy (approximately 57%) is found on privately-owned lands (Oakville’s Urban Forest: Our Solution to Our Pollution Report, 2006), making a private tree conservation by-law critical to retaining large stature trees and enhancing the tree canopy cover in Oakville for all its various social, ecological, economic services and benefits.

The Current By-law Must Be Improved: Oakvillegreen strongly supports the original staff recommendation to remove the Notification Process and require a permit for every tree. The data below demonstrates clearly that as a result of the Notification Process provision allowing FOUR trees to be removed, the current private tree by-law is largely ineffective. If the Notification Process is not replaced with requiring a permit for every tree, Oakville’s tree canopy will likely continue to decline. Cities like Toronto, Richmond Hill, Markham, Brampton, Kitchener, Ottawa, Vaughan and parts of Hamilton already use a permit for all regulated tree removals. A permit process for every regulated tree allows staff to advise landowners about other options for tree care, to permit tree removals when they are justified and to ensure that canopy cover lost due to approved removals is replaced. ONLY a permit process allows the Town of Oakville to regulate tree removals effectively.

An Improved By-law is Only One Tool to Preserve Our Canopy Cover: Oakvillegreen also emphasizes that we need both an effective private tree conservation by-law, and strong provisions for tree preservation as part of development applications. Tree cover losses from new development in the north and intensification and infill development in older, mature and well-treed neighbourhoods are not addressed by a private tree by-law enacted under the Municipal Act. There is currently a lack of data on tree canopy cover loss resulting from development and site plan applications in Oakville. Updating the 2006 UFORE data to track canopy cover changes in Oakville and updating the Urban Forest Strategic Management Plan are long overdue and we strongly support this work. However, meeting our canopy cover targets requires both the compilation of data identifying the relative proportion of tree canopy lost as a result of development and site plan applications and the development and enforcement of stronger tree protection standards and assessment and reporting criteria during development. Neither of these items are within the scope of the current tree by-law review but they should be top priorities for Council and staff.

What’s up for review?

The Town of Oakville is reviewing the Private Tree Protection By-law 2008-156, which first came into effect October 1, 2008. Council requested that a review of the by-law be conducted in consultation with all stakeholders, as well as a review of  Tree Preservation Plans for Development Applications with options to enhance both, in May of 2012. The staff report to Council in March of 2014 is found here: https://securepwa.oakville.ca/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=2338&doctype=AGENDA (Click on Item #8 to bring up the list of supporting documents).

The staff report is explicit in noting that the important concerns raised by Council and the community related to the loss of trees as part of Development Applications (subject to the Planning Act) would be addressed as part of a separate update of the 2006 Oakville UFORE (Urban Forest Effects Model) study (http://www.oakville.ca/residents/trees-woodlands.html) and an update to the Urban Forest Strategic Management Plan (UFSMP) for lands south of Dundas Street.

The staff report highlights several deficiencies in the current by-law, especially related to the size of trees which ought to be regulated, the ineffectiveness of the notification process, and the need for a clear mechanism for calculating replacement tree compensation requirements.

What does the data from the last 5 years of the private tree by-law tell us?

Under the current by-law, landowners only need to ‘notify’ the Town by submitting a Notification Form when:

– they will be injuring or destroying four (4) trees or less that are between 20cm and 76 cm dbh (diameter of the tree trunk at 1.37m) within one calendar year, or

– they will be injuring or destroying dead or hazard trees greater than 20 cm dbh

A permit is currently only required if a landowner wishes to injure or destroy a tree that is either:

– greater than 76 cm dbh (stands for ‘diameter at breast height’ or diameter of the tree trunk at 1.37m)

– classified as an endangered, threatened or at risk species

– or if they wish to injure or destroy five (5) or more trees (or the fifth or more tree) that are each greater than 20cm dbh and less than 76 cm dbh on a lot within one calendar year.

1. Approximately 1% of the Town’s Total Canopy Was Lost

Through the current Notification Process 329,082 sq.m of canopy or about the equivalent of 1% of the urban tree canopy has been removed since 2008. Importantly, these trees were removed without any potential for discussion or education from forestry staff, with no tree replacement or compensation and with no fee (See Table 1, Source: Appendix D, Performance Data).

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.20.53 PM

2. Many Healthy Trees Continue to be Removed

A whopping 865 healthy trees were removed in a 10 month period in 2013 alone (See Table 2, Source: Appendix D, Performance Data). Importantly, these were not dead, hazard or EAB-infested Ash trees which required removal, but healthy trees which likely could have continued to contribute to our urban forest canopy for many years to come!

3. Most Trees Continue to be Removed Without any Requirement for Replanting or Compensation

98% of the healthy trees removed during that 10 month period in 2013 were removed without a permit. In 2013 the permit process was only triggered in 18 cases (or 2%).  In other words, the private tree by-law failed to ‘regulate’ tree removals in at least 847 cases! Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.28.34 PM

 NB: Appendix D, Performance Data is available at: https://securepwa.oakville.ca/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=2338&doctype=AGENDA (Click on Agenda Item #8 to bring up the list of supporting documents.)

What can you do?

1. Contact your Councillors and the Mayor and let them know that you support removing the Notification Process entirely so that we have a much more effective private tree conservation by-law for Oakville. Oakville Town Council contact information and email addresses can be found here.

2. Spread the word within your networks. Show your support for a stronger private tree by-law on social media by tweeting #OakvilleNeedsItsTrees and tell your family and friends to do the same. You can connect with us on twitter @oakvillegreen and on Facebook at Oakvillegreen Conservation Association.