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West Vancouver looks to boost tree cutting fines

Penalty could rise to $5,000 as deterrent

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but steeper fines might start sprouting from stumps in West Vancouver.

The fine for illegally chopping trees in the affluent hamlet might climb from $1,000 to $5,000 following council’s unanimous decision on June 6 to lobby the Union of B.C. Municipalities for heftier penalties this September.

The current fine is “pocket change,” according to Coun. Nora Gambioli, who put forward the motion.

“We believe the only way for us to change this is to petition the provincial government to change the community charter,” she said.

The harsher punishment could also be applied to fines for illegal blasting, owning a vicious dog, or failing to adhere to water shortage measures.

If West Vancouver succeeds, the fine structure would change throughout B.C., despite the fact illegal tree cutting is a non-issue in “99 per cent of the municipalities across the province,” Gambioli noted.

To account for possible antipathy, Gambioli suggested lobbying the UBCM under the pretense of giving municipalities “more jurisdiction over the amount they charge,” particularly relative to inflation and increased property values.

Gambioli said she settled on $5,000 as a fine amount after a series of conversations with West Vancouver MLA Ralph Sultan.

However, quintupling the fine seemed like a half-measure for at least one councillor.

“I think the number needs to be at least $10,000,” said Coun. Craig Cameron. “When people ... are cutting down a tree that improves their view by millions, we have to get their attention.”

On the heels of the first motion, council unanimously passed a second motion to have Mayor Michael Smith request the province grant West Vancouver the latitude to determine what fines are most suitable for their residents.

Council established West Vancouver’s first tree protection bylaw in April, forbidding residents from chopping down trees with a diameter of 75 centimetres or greater unless an arborist deems them hazardous.

The initial motion’s passage was greeted with the revving of chainsaws, as residents across West Vancouver chopped trees in the hours before council’s ruling became law.

One of the hardest hit backyards was next to resident Liesa Norman, who watched tall cedars tumble before the protective bylaw was enacted.

“People up here don’t care,” she said, discussing the $1,000 fine. “It’s not even a slap on the wrist.”

Discussing the issue in April, Coun. Mary-Ann Booth stressed the need for collaboration between council and the community.

“We don’t want to declare war. I want to see consensus around this.”

West Vancouver’s tree bylaw also shields Garry oaks and arbutus trees with a diameter of 20 cm or greater.

The bylaw covers most of West Vancouver with the exception of 6,000 acres constituting the Upper Lands and heritage area Lower Caulfeild.