Ask Pat: Trees!

Two Ask Pats in one! Both of these questions came in about the same time a while ago, and one I have already personally answered at a public event, but they are a common theme, so here goes:

Someone asks—

does Queensborough landing area require tree cutting permit to remove tree on edge of city and private properties?

Depends. If it is on their land, they can cut it down. The City does not have a tree protection bylaw for private property, something I have complained about in the past. We do have a Bylaw that makes it illegal to cut or damage trees on City property without the City’s permission. We can fine you for that, and make you replace the tree.

Wes asks—

Hi Pat, why in light of the City’s recognition of the importance of an Urban Forest Strategy did Management and Council strip out budget for the city arborist to plant any new Boulevard trees this year? Seems totally counterintuitive.

Because we probably weren’t aware, and because it made sense at the time.

The annual budgeting process is large and complicated, and Council needs to rely on senior staff to make decisions about their annual needs, based on a set of priorities set out by the Council.

It would be unusual, and not very useful, for any individual Councillor to go through every single budget line and decide “a little more” or “a little less”. If every Councillor did this, it would be chaos. The budget documents we need to review come in three-ring binders, the massive 3-inch ring types, and are printed double-sided. Every change to one line results in sometimes obscure changes to other items, with compounding effects over multi-year budgeting cycles. Relying on senior staff from multiple departments to distill this info is required.

That said, as a Council we asked Parks, Culture, and Recreation staff to reduce some of their spending last year from what they requested, in part of the effort to get the annual property tax increase reduced from a draft 2.42% in February to the to 1.96% we approved in April (and yeah, there may be some politics to that idea of “keeping it under 2%”).

I do remember having discussions about the reductions in some spending on Parks Maintenance staff (which I voted against) as I remember joking that if we paved all of the green space, it would then be Engineering’s problem to pay for it, and Parks would be off the hook. I also remember at the time staff being asked to dig deeper for some operational savings related to this. We did, at the time, discuss Council’s expressed desire to improve the amount and quality of our green spaces in the City, and how this wasn’t being reflected in the budget. However, I doubt it was ever expressed to us that no trees would be planted in 2015.

The good news is that this does not mean that no trees would be planted in 2015. Parks staff recognized that they had a bit of a backlog of unplanted trees. These are generally trees the City receives as part of the contributions of various developers (if a developer is required to put trees in front of their property on City land, they just pay the City to do that instead of doing it themselves) and other sources. We also (I am told by staff) had a bit of catching up to do in regards to tree maintenance across the City, so this freed up some staff time to do more pruning and other tree maintenance activities.

The City plants something north of 200 trees per year on average, but the early work being done to help develop an Urban Forest Management Strategy tells us this is not enough to maintain a healthy urban forest. Expect to hear more in the New Year, but the City is going to need to ramp up its plantings, and do more to encourage the protection of trees on private property, if we want to change the trend of an urban forest continuing to erode.

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