Trees in Peril

In general, Canadians love trees. Whether in our backyards, parks or roadsides, we understand the value of trees and the enormous benefits they give. Air quality enhancement, water protection, energy conservation, wildlife habitat, better aesthetics and a sense of community - these are all values that trees can give.

So for many of us, we are somewhat disheartened when we realize that not all people view trees with the same enthusiasm or support. Some see trees as a "nuisance" - sources of leaves and needles or shade to "spoil" a perfect lawn . Some see trees as "interfering" with their right to be able to park their car on their property, or to develop a property for houses or to widen a road.

The dilemma is that while all trees live on "someone's" property (a municipality, utility company easement or an individual) the benefits that they provide, do not know property boundaries... That is: your tree, your neighbours' tree, your neighbourhood park's tree or your community forest are all affecting everyone's life in many ways. So when someone proposes cutting them down people can get upset and need to take action.

That is where Tree Canada comes in. We want to support you. We want to help you by giving you our contacts, our advice and visibility. We encourage anyone who seeks to protect trees in their community to support us through our donation program to make sure this work continues.

Steps in Tree Protection

There are some basic steps in the protection of trees, most of which involves your local authorities.

Step 1
There are a number of basic tools that every municipality should have in place to protect its trees. These include:

  • Implementing the best management practices for urban forests - compendium of these practices can be found here
  • Formulating a strategic plan for the management of the urban forest
  • Articulating a tree policy
  • Passing a tree cutting bylaw
  • Preparing a registry of heritage trees
  • Ensuring that qualified personnel be in place, and
  • An informed Council through presentations from time to time on the value of urban trees to their communities

If your municipality does not have these tools in place you should work with your Council to ensure it does. The most basic requirements of a modern municipality are a tree cutting bylaw, a registry of heritage trees and the hiring of qualified personnel (usually with certification from the International Society of Arboriculture and/or a provincially-based forestry body).

Step 2
If a tree cutting bylaw is in place, find out if it requires a permit to be obtained and if neighbours can be informed when the permit is being considered.

Step 3
Understand in advance, the reasons for why the tree(s) is being cut down and whether all possible alternatives have been considered prior to its removal. Speak to a Certified Arborist to get information on the subject.

Step 4
Get to know your municipal and elected officials in advance to ensure prompt action. Know who on Council may be sympathetic and who truly understands the value of trees.

Step 5
Know the grounds by which you could object to the decision to cut the tree:

  • Is it definitely on your neighbour's property (and not yours)?
  • Is it against your municipality's urban forest (or other) plan?
  • Is it against your municipality's tree policy?
  • Is it against the designation of the tree as a "heritage tree"?
  • Have all alternatives been considered?
  • Does it make arboricultural (tree) sense?
  • Has anyone talked to the landowner to see if mitigation is possible?

Step 6
And finally, when negotiations with the landowner have failed, where the municipality is not prepared to reverse the decision, and where you feel all alternatives have not been considered, you should be prepared to:

  • contact the local media
  • contact Tree Canada to help you in giving you contacts, advice and visibility, and
  • contact a lawyer with regards to your right to a stop work order until the case has been resolved or if you feel the tree to be cut is on your property.

Recent Cases of Trees in Peril

From time to time, people alert us to trees that are in peril from being cut for one reason or another. We try our best to help these citizens by giving contacts, advice and visibility.

Côte-des-Neiges (Montréal, QC)

Issue: In an area of downtown Montréal near Mont-Royal (an area with more restrictive tree bylaws) a landowner whose backyard has a gully decides to "clean up" by removing the trees and filling in the gully. One of the trees, a poplar of 1.5 metre diameter, gives shade (and other benefits) to a number of neighbours. After overhearing a discussion by a local contractor, a neighbour, Ms. Sophie Kantas decides to investigate. Apparently, a city inspector had recommended the trees be saved, however the advice was ignored and a permit was issued by the city for the trees to be cut (Montréal has a tree cutting bylaw and tree policy). Ms. Kantas contacted local media, politicians and Tree Canada for help.

Resolution: Seven trees were cut (including the poplar) with some debate as to the ownership of one of the trees. Great deal of publicity was generated with a much greater sensitivity as to how tree cutting permits are issued by the City.

The Woodlands Oak (Oakville, ON)

Issue: The removal of a massive, 250-year-old white oak, previously reported on by the grandfather of urban forestry Dr. Erik Jorgensen in the 1970's was scheduled to accommodate the widening of a highway. Several alternatives were considered including moving the tree and moving the road - both at considerable cost to the taxpayer.

Resolution: Citizens must raise $343,000 in donations to save the tree to relocate the highway around the tree by December 15, 2006.

Read about the case now

Belleville's Oak

Issue: A very large (1.5 m diameter) white oak was slated for removal when a developer's plan was unveiled adjacent to Bell Creek in the town of Belleville. The oak had not been inventoried, there are no tree bylaws in Belleville and there is no Heritage Tree program. Local residents and Town of Belleville staff saw the value in keeping the tree - a remnant of another era.

Resolution: By talking with the developer in advance of the project the Bell Creek Community Association was able to get the development plan changed so that the oak will be in a public park and protected by fencing during construction to protect the root system.

Read about the case now