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Proposed TBM bylaw to impose restrictions on urban tree removal from private properties

Proposed updates would regulate tree removal on residential properties above 0.5 hectares in size
The proposed bylaw will place restrictions on properties above 0.5 hectares in size within the town's 'settlement' area, which includes Thornbury, Craigleith, and Highway 26, as shown above. | TBM photo.

Faced with the conflicting pressures of urban development and tree preservation, The Town of The Blue Mountains (TBM) has drafted an amended tree bylaw that proposes to regulate tree removal on some private properties.

The new bylaw proposes regulating tree removal on settlement area properties above 0.5 hectares in size. The town's settlement area properties are largely located within the urban areas of Thornbury, Clarksburg, and along Highway 26 into Craigleith and Blue Mountain Village. 

Town staff began working in 2019 to update the town’s tree protection measures, but the work was largely put on hold until the spring of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The town’s current tree regulation, bylaw 2010-68, applies to municipal lands and lands that are subject to an approved tree preservation plan, but trees on many of the town’s private properties are currently unregulated.

“What we're trying with this bylaw is to fill the gap in the settlement area where those current regulations or authorities would not otherwise apply,” said town planner Travis Sandberg at a joint committee meeting Jan. 13. “This bylaw is intended to apply to privately owned properties within the settlement area only.”

“We need to provide some sort of regulation on clearcutting and larger tree removals, and to not encumber every small lot for every single tree to be cut.”

Here are some of the new measures that could be put in place as the proposed bylaw currently stands:

  • On settlement properties greater than 0.5 hectares, a permit will need to be obtained to destroy any tree greater than 30 cm in diameter, and to destroy five or more trees between 15 and 30 cm in diameter within a calendar year.
  • Permits will not be issued without the support of studies or reports, which might include a certified arborist report, environmental impact study, or other report deemed appropriate by the town.
  • As part of their application process, developers will need to acquire a permit prior to the destruction of trees on proposed development lands.
  • Penalties for the illegal destruction of a tree will be calculated through the International Society of Arboriculture Trunk Formula Method, which may also be used to determine the amount and type of new trees that responsible parties will be required to plant in replacement.

The proposed bylaw also includes a number of exemptions, where a permit will not be required for the destruction of trees, some of which are outlined below:

  • Trees on properties below 0.5 hectares in size.
  • Trees outside the settlement area, including agricultural lands that abut the town’s settlement area.
  • The destruction of trees smaller than 15 cm in diameter.
  • When an applicant seeks to destroy four or less trees between 15 and 30 cm in diameter within a calendar year.
  • When trees are being cut to gather firewood for personal use, up to 25 stacked cubic metres per year.
  • The destruction of a tree considered to be an invasive species.
  • A tree designated as injured or destroyed by someone with the town’s approval.
  • The destruction of trees as necessary in accordance with normal farm practices.

Town staff plan to release an interactive map showing the properties that may be affected by the bylaw.

“Individual property owners will be able to search their property in order to determine if there's … any current regulations on the property, and then secondly to determine who they need to talk to if they want to cut trees, if there are regulations on it,” Sandberg said.

The proposed bylaw stems from the enactment of Bill 68 in 2017, in which the province requires that each municipality develop policies for tree protection and the enhancement of natural vegetation. The town currently has policies in place to promote these ends, but only one that applies to privately owned lands.

The County of Grey Forest Management Bylaw prohibits the destruction of trees on forested, private lands over one hectare in size. It is currently the only bylaw that regulates tree-cutting on private lands in The Town of The Blue Mountains.

Committee members made a number of comments on the proposed bylaw.

John Ardiel voiced concerns about the town further extending its influence onto private properties.

“I would suggest you go back and check Bill 68, as I firmly believe that does not apply to private properties,” he said.

“Bill 68 is not exclusive to the municipal lands,” said director of planning and development services Nathan Westendorp. “Bill 68 requires towns to have a municipal tree canopy policy, which we do have in the official plan, but when council was looking at a staff report when we were responding to Bill 68, [they said] ‘Well, we do have a tree bylaw. We'd like you to look into it and see how we can update it.’”

Duncan McKinlay questioned whether the definition of the settlement area might be abruptly changed to encompass more of the town.

“There’s been some people talking to me, they're very afraid that this will pass and then council can just pass a motion to amend [the settlement area] to include the whole township,” he said.

Town staff sought to reassure McKinlay such a change wouldn't be done unless there was public consultation before the decision was made.

“I can confirm that to amend [the settlement area] would be an amendment to the bylaw, and it would definitely include a public process, including a public meeting,” Westendorp said.

Rosemary Mesley suggested that the town might give developers incentives to avoid clear-cutting the land.

“How can we make this the best it can be, and not give them the opportunity to want to clear cut everything, and give them incentives?” she asked.

“The incentives comment is actually very intriguing to me,” Westendorp said. “Bylaws are the enforcement side of it, to say here's what you can and can't do, incentives are often done through programs, but [it’s] … something we will take back and will look into.”

After postponing the work through the pandemic, TBM held a public open house and conducted a municipal survey in 2021.

Respondents to the survey strongly supported protections for the town’s urban trees and for penalties to be imposed for unauthorized tree clearing.

However, just over half of respondents supported tree protection on privately owned lands under one hectare in size.

Following the joint committee meeting with members of the sustainable advisory committee and agricultural advisory committee, staff will update the draft bylaw and present it to council.

The revised bylaw will then be brought to a public meeting, after which a final draft will be brought to council for approval.

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About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie, LJI Reporter

Greg McGrath-Goudie covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands as part of the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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