Column: Cautious approach to Township-wide tree bylaw the right way to go

Langley Township is again being urged to adopt a municipal-wide tree bylaw, and this time there seems to be more support than in the past.

The issue was addressed by speaker Hanae Sukurai at Township council’s Monday, March 5 meeting.

Unlike many past suggestions that council go full throttle and adopt a tree bylaw based on models in more urban settings, Sukurai made a more cautious and wise proposal.

She suggested council set up a standing committee to review a comprehensive tree protection bylaw.

Given that 2018 is an election year, even setting up a committee has plenty of political ramifications, as Councillor Kim Richter noted. She said it could easily become an election issue, and also said she likes the idea of setting up a standing committee.

The Township has struggled mightily with the tree issue. After considerable pressure a decade or so ago, it adopted a bylaw which only applied to Brookswood. It was not a success.

However, as property prices shot up and the prospect of more urbanization in Brookswood and Fernridge came closer, some property owners cleared their properties of almost all trees. In Brookswood and Fernridge in particular, there are many fine stands of mature coniferous trees. The tree canopy is a valued aspect of life for many residents.

Willoughby has also lost many trees. Some have been removed because of the density of development. While there aren’t as many significant stands of coniferous trees, there are some significant groves. The clear-cutting of mature trees on the upland portion of the Tara Farms property last year raised a significant outcry, as it should have.

In the case of that property, it is within the Agricultural Land Reserve, where it is harder to establish any tree-cutting rules. Since the trees were cut, the property owner has applied for its exclusion from the ALR, for development and building of a connector road.

More recently, the cutting of trees in Fort Langley has also raised some concerns. The fact that the Township does not have a tree-cutting bylaw has even been cited by some developers as a good reason to cut trees down now.

Any tree-cutting bylaw in Langley Township needs to be modelled on common sense, and to not become a cash grab to justify setting up a new level of bureaucracy. It seems reasonable to let property owners cut down a small number of trees (perhaps one per urban lot, and two per acre on rural land) without any restrictions or permits. The Township should also allow property owners to remove diseased trees without a permit, with diagnosis by an arborist required ahead of time.

In any area which is being proposed for development, Township staff should do a detailed survey of the trees in the area very early in the process. This does not require bushwhacking – such a survey could readily be done using aerial photos, with on-the-ground confirmation when necessary.

Tree removal within the ALR becomes more challenging. As Sakurai suggested, the Township could look at the approach taken by Surrey and Delta. There, tree removal on ALR lands is relatively simple.

One approach the Township should take, when it comes to tree removal within the ALR, is to try to determine ahead of time the purpose of the tree removal. If it is to simply allow a giant home to be built and to ensure that it has the best view possible, that isn’t a good enough reason to allow wholesale tree removal. Nor should tree removal be permitted if the land is being prepared for an exclusion application from the Agricultural Land Reserve, and subsequent development.

Reaching a made-in-the-Township solution will involve plenty of give and take, and will require plenty of research into what works and does not work in other jurisdictions with tree removal bylaws. Setting up a standing committee should be a good way to do that.

Frank Bucholtz is a retired editor-turned political blogger. His thoughts on issues affecting the South Fraser region can be found on his Frankly Speaking blog.

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