With the amount of tree canopy cover in Saanich eroding, the municipality is looking to toughen up its existing tree preservation bylaw in hopes of protecting what’s left of the urban forest.
The changes include adding more species – grand fir and big leaf maple – to Saanich’s list of protected trees, and reducing the size threshold for cutting to put even more protections on seedlings and young trees on private property.
“We lost about 2.5 per cent of our canopy cover between 2005 and 2009, which equated to about 280 hectares of canopy cover,” said Cory Manton, Saanich’s manager of urban forestry, horticulture and natural areas.
“If this trend continued forever, you’re going to find an imbalance at some point where the trees are no longer going to provide the benefits that they do for us today.”
Manton says those four years between 2005 and 2009 saw the amount of mature tree canopy decrease in every neighbourhood and every zoning class in the municipality.
According to Saanich’s Land Cover Mapping report from 2012, the Douglas neighbourhood – around Uptown and municipal hall – lost 34.4 per cent of its treed land cover in that four-year span.
The problem, Manton said, is a lot of trees are removed to make way for development. Because these developments – buildings, roads, driveways and the like – are impervious obstacles, the amount of available planting land is also shrinking.
By amending the bylaw, Saanich hopes to sustain or even grow the urban forest, but that will take time.
“The bylaw’s a measure to stem future loss, but also to require replacement tree planting so you shouldn’t have a net loss in the overall canopy in the long-term,” Manton said. “Even though, tree for tree, you might be replacing a big tree with a little tree, that little tree will grow to be the big tree.”
Saanich staff presented the proposed amendments at an open house at Cedar Hill golf course earlier this week.
While many people said the changes don’t go far enough, some felt the changes are too stringent.
“Property owners are supposed to own their property, and Saanich is continuously eroding their ability to care and control their property and the trees on it, all in the name of environmental concerns,” said Saanich resident Fraser Ramsay.
“It’s an easy sell, but it makes it more difficult for residents to control their property or the foliage on their property. That really irritates me.”
Rae Roer, Saanich’s manager of parks said the benefits of Saanich’s urban forest are being eroded.
“The overall vision is to protect and enhance the urban forest,” Roer said. “Protecting relates to smaller species, and enhancing means replacement, so if there’s going to be loss, we’re replacing them to prevent future net canopy loss.”
Staff hope to present the amended bylaw to council in November.
Proposed tree protection bylaw changes
-The proposed bylaw changes include protecting arbutus, Garry oak, Pacific yew and Pacific dogwood based on height (taller than 50 cm), rather than thickness.
-Any Douglas fir or western red cedar with a 30 cm DBH (diameter at breast height, a thickness measure) or larger will be protected, compared to the existing 60 cm DBH.
-Grand fir and big leaf maple trees with a 30 cm DBH or larger will also be protected, down from 80 cm DBH minimum in the existing bylaw.
-It will also cost more to get Saanich's approval to remove a tree on private property – from the current $25 administration fee plus $5 per tree, to a $75 fee plus $25 per tree.
-Visit saanich.ca/amendingtreebylaw for a full list of proposed changes.