SURREY â€” While South Surrey has traditionally been known for its lush green and tall timbers, it has experienced much change over the past decade.
That development has, unsurprisingly, resulted in trees falling to the chainsaw. A new city report reveals Surrey has seen more than a five per cent drop in its tree canopy over the past 12 years, nearly half of which came from South Surrey.
That loss was the impetus behind the creation of the newly formed Grandview Heights Stewardship Association (GHSA).
"Tree canopy loss is a big concern that we have in South Surrey especially because this is an area in transition," said GHSA chair Victoria Blinkhorn, who has called Grandview home for 18 years.
The organization formed because many residents are concerned about tree preservation and infill development, she added.
Blinkhorn said when areas in Grandview are developed, it’s not uncommon to see just a handful of trees saved out of hundreds.
Her motivation to get involved was first sparked in 2004. That was when the Grandview General Land Use Plan was being developed and there were concerns about tree loss along 164th Avenue.
"One side of that has now become Morgan Heights and there’s been substantial tree loss there and there’s a new infill development that’s going to be leaving 28 out of 214 trees taken down."
Blinkhorn said Grandview Heights looks enviously at subdivisions like Ocean Park.
"I look around and see beautiful trees that have been retained on small lots. It’s all about density and of course services are necessary… but leave a few trees, why don’t ya?" With the goal of engaging and informing residents, GHSA has created a comprehensive website and is keeping an eye on upcoming projects.
With the city’s 100-metre notification radius for new development, Blinkhorn said it’s easy to live down the street from a potential development and not know anything about it.
"Small changes affect a lot of people." Blinkhorn said the group may, on occasion, seem critical of city policies but said its goal is to know the rules, to get the city to follow them and to share information with residents.
While the area is made up of a wide variety of demographics and housing – from large acreages to dense townhouse developments – Blinkhorn said she hopes the community can come together to work toward a common goal: Creating a sustainable, livable, walkable, enjoyable neighbourhood.
"And most definitely, tree canopy is a big part of that," she said.
"I think our ultimate goal is to have a neighbourhood where community voices are heard in the build-out process, where NCPs are respected. It doesn’t matter if you live in a tent or a condo or a mansion. Your home is your home and you care what’s going on around it."
REPORT SHOWS STEADY DROP
For the first time in its history, Surrey has received a comprehensive report on its tree canopy, the analysis excluding only the Agricultural Land Reserve.
First revealed at an environmental sustainability advisory committee last Wednesday, the report showed the city’s tree canopy was 33 per cent in 2001, 30 per cent in 2009, and by 2013 had dropped to 27.7 per cent.
Forty three per cent of that loss was in South Surrey, 20 per cent in Guildford, with the remainder distributed amongst other neighbourhoods.
In 2009, single-family lots in South Surrey had an average tree canopy of 47.8 per cent. New developments are now averaging 7.7 per cent.
From 2001 to 2013, the City of Surrey issued tree-cutting permits for 102,347, and 124,403 were replaced.
Without changes in Surrey’s current practices, the report expects the city’s tree canopy to drop to somewhere between 21 to 27 per cent in 50 years.
So, how does the city plan to continue to see population growth, and reverse the tree loss trend at the same time?
Environmental committee chair Coun. Bruce Hayne said the city has a few strategies in the works.
First, the city plans to encourage urban infill, as opposed to greenfill development, which is essentially building on undeveloped land, Hayne said.
The city also has plans to steer dense projects to town centres, Hayne added.
"So if we look at City Centre for instance, there are literally thousands of homes built in City Centre in the coming years in the form of high rises. They are going to have a very minimal impact on our tree canopy and yet it’s going to allow us to add thousands of residents," he said.
"We have to look at smart developments in our town centres, along our transportation corridors, and try and take the pressure off some of those other lands."
Hayne said the city’s recently adopted Biodiversity Conservation Strategy would also come into play.
"That is a target to preserve 10,000 acres in the city in total in perpetuity in its absolute natural state," he said.
Hayne added that the "stick trees" being planted to replace mature trees coming down through development may not add to the tree canopy right now, but will down the road.
"Those stick trees become beautiful big oaks lining residential boulevards over time. So that will naturally increase the tree canopy as well… looking out 30, 40 years from now."
Hayne said the city has a "pretty ambitious" goal of reaching a 40 per cent tree canopy by 2058, but is optimistic it can be achieved.
"I know there are some communities and some folks that see development and see trees coming down and feel that, ‘Wow, we’re losing trees here, there and everywhere.’ And in some of those new developments we are. And in some places we’re increasing our tree canopy," Hayne said.
"We have to also keep in mind that just because there’s a corner lot that has a whole bunch of trees on it doesn’t mean it’s a public asset. That corner lot has been owned by somebody for many years and they’re waiting until the time is right for them to do something with that land. So we have to realize that, we have to respect that and we have to then guide our development strategies in a way that’s going to preserve as much forested land as we can."
At Wednesday’s committee meeting, Hayne said there was much discussion about the report.
"We talked about putting trees into our 2015 work plan because we want to look further at it. We want to look at some of the issues surrounding the tree preservation bylaws and the tree replacement bylaws and things like that to make sure that we’re doing it in a balanced way."
Once the committee looks at the issues, it will forward its recommendations to council.
Vice-chair of the committee, Bob Campbell, believes the city’s target of 2058 is too far off.
"I’m going to be dead by then," he said, adding he’d like to see a shorter-term target.
Campbell called the report disturbing.
"It’s obviously going in the wrong direction."
Campbell has proposed changes to Surrey’s tree policies in the past.
He says the city’s "cut twice, build once" policy is levelling forests.
In a letter to the editor earlier this year he wrote, "Surrey allows developers to ‘guess’ at where the eventual lot purchased will build their houses, put their driveways, etc., and then to clear the property to match these guesses. When lots are sold, the buyers often decide to place their houses and driveways in different locations."
He wrote the city would argue it places a restrictive covenant on any trees standing after the first cut, but said, "The reality is that the city will not enforce these covenants and usually allows the eventual lot purchaser to cut additional trees."
He said he’d like to see a "tree-friendly" approach, where the city could work with developers to only allow trees to be removed for basic servicing.
Blinkhorn also weighed in on the tree canopy report.
"The accelerated canopy depletion is not surprising," she said. "Is the city’s treeplanting program a suitable substitute for old growth forest canopy which is being rapidly depleted through development?
"The 40 per cent canopy target for 2058 is positive and ambitious. Only the promised tree bylaw-strengthening and compliance by education of the development industry will make this target possible," she stated.