White Rock council has made good on one of its Strategic Priorities for 2021-22 – protecting and increasing the city’s tree canopy – by adopting a more stringent tree protection bylaw.
Tree Protection Bylaw, 2021 No. 2407 – which replaces a 2008 bylaw – was given first, second and third readings on Dec. 13 and final adoption on Dec. 14.
The bylaw was originally given first second and third readings at the Nov. 22 council meeting, but corporate administration director Tracey Arthur explained that a clerical error had effectively nullified that approval, necessitating a re-do.
The new bylaw defines protected trees in White Rock as all those with an over 20-cm ‘diameter at breast height’ (DBH) – 1.4 metres above the natural grade of the site, as measured from the base of the tree.
Also on the protected list are any replacement trees planted under a city Tree Management Permit; or a tree, hedge or shrub – of any size – on city-owned property.
The bylaw particularly protects trees that have evidence of nesting or use by raptors as defined in the BC Wildlife Act (1996, c. 488) – or are home to the nest of eagles, peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, ospreys, herons or burrowing owls.
The move to create a new bylaw, and review and revise city tree policy, was directly inspired by the felling of two 100-foot Douglas fir ‘eagle trees’ on Oxford Street in June of 2019, in which council members were only informed about the decision after work had started.
The bylaw additionally specifies that Arbutus, Garry oak and Pacific dogwood trees – of any size – are within the ‘protected’ definition.
Penalties for offences under the bylaw include fines and shouldering the costs of planting replacement trees.
The only exemptions are for protected trees that are cut, removed or damaged in connection with railway safety maintenance, BC Hydro work or as a result of city operations on city-owned property.
The bylaw also increases the requirement for planting replacement trees, upping it to two replacement trees for any removed tree below 50-cm DBH, all the way up to six replacement trees for a removed tree with a greater- than-85-cm DBH.
In a city media release Mayor Darryl Walker said that “careful environmental stewardship” is a priority for the city.
“The Tree Protection Bylaw will help to make sure the city keeps pace with environmental best practices and is an important part of this stewardship,” he said.
Coun. Erika Johanson noted the valuable input of community members on the city’s Environmental Advisory Committee.
“This bylaw will protect trees rather than just manage the way in which they may be removed,” she said.
Under the bylaw, anybody applying for a demolition permit or a building permit in the city – or someone wanting to cut or remove a protected tree or cut and remove roots within the critical root zone of a protected tree – must apply to the director of planning and development services for a tree management permit.
The only exception to this would be a site, as determined by city staff, that does not include any protected trees or ‘critical root zones’ of protected trees.
When a protected tree is in imminent danger of falling due to natural causes and it is not possible to obtain a tree management permit prior to the tree falling, the owner may cut the tree or have it cut, but must report the cutting by the next business day, the bylaw states.
Even then, owners must keep the tree on their property until city staff can confirm that it was in imminent danger of falling, due to natural causes, and causing injury to people or property.