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West Van’s interim tree bylaw growing four-year roots

Despite some residents urging council to take a firmer stance on hardwood, it looks like West Vancouver’s interim tree bylaw is headed for a four-year term.

Despite some residents urging council to take a firmer stance on hardwood, it looks like West Vancouver’s interim tree bylaw is headed for a four-year term.

Sixty minutes of debate,  mainly regarding a bylaw amendment that would exponentially increase the district’s stock of protected trees, led to deadlock July 16.

According to the interim tree bylaw passed in 2016, residents can’t cut down trees with a diameter of 75 centimetres or greater at breast height unless the tree is deemed hazardous or the resident is redeveloping their property. Council debated reducing the diameter of protected trees to 35 centimetres; “a number that’s based on nothing,” according to Mayor Mary-Ann Booth.

Council needs a more comprehensive picture of West Vancouver’s tree canopy before making a decision, Booth said, noting a Light Detection and Ranging survey is underway.

Protecting more trees is common sense, argued Coun. Bill Soprovich, warning that more trees could turn into firewood while council awaits further research. “Even in a six-month period there could be a lot of damage done,” he said, suggesting room could be freed up in the budget.

“There is no additional room in our budget,” responded chief administrative officer Nina Leemhuis.

Choosing a slimmer diameter will mean protecting approximately five to 10 times more trees than are currently safeguarded, according to West Vancouver director of planning Jim Bailey. That change will also mean hiring two new employees, Bailey emphasized.

“We think we’re being very conservative, cost-effective and, I think optimistic, in saying two staff would cover going from 75 to 35 [cm],” Bailey said.

Council should reach out to the community before changing the bylaw, Booth said, noting a concern about the district creating a big bureaucracy.

West Vancouver has one arborist who reviews private and boulevard tree permits and works with bylaw officers.

While acknowledging that the 35 cm figure is a stopgap, Coun. Peter Lambur pushed for the bylaw to be changed.

“There is the risk of losing a lot of trees that we wouldn’t have if we just would have maintained the 75-centimetre mark.”

Explaining his opposition, Coun. Marcus Wong said he was uncomfortable pulling a number out of thin air.

Any number is arbitrary, Coun. Craig Cameron responded, suggesting council take a “do no harm” approach.

“I think there’s less potential harm from protecting more trees for the next six months . . . than there is in protecting fewer trees and then trying to tighten the rules,” he said. “Once you cut a tree down, it’s cut.”

The debate ended in a 3-3 tie with Couns. Cameron, Lambur and Soprovich supporting first reading and Mayor Mary-Ann Booth and Couns. Wong and Sharon Thompson opposed.

“There’s a reason why no previous council dealt with it. It’s complex, it needs percolation, and it needs a proper process,” Booth said.

Council’s deadlock was a disappointment for several residents, including Allison Kermode, a plant cell biology professor at Simon Fraser University.

“What we need now most desperately is to stop the status quo,” she wrote, stressing the need for residents to guard the tree canopy.

“Why should those that are fortunate enough to have more trees on their properties have less responsibility toward addressing climate change?” she asked.

The failure to preserve a “super-keystone species” represents a: “colossal hypocrisy,” according to Kermode.

West Vancouver needs to protect trees with a diameter of 20 to 25 cm and put an emphasis on preservation as opposed to replacement, she explained.

“Replacement tree[s] may not be very resistant to global warming and drought, and may not be resistant to an increased incidence of pathogens and insects brought on by climate change,” she wrote.

“We as a community, especially for our youth and upcoming generations, cannot afford to have you talk out of both sides of your mouth. You have declared a climate emergency – therefore you can start tonight,” Kermode concluded.

Council is tentatively set to revisit the interim tree bylaw this fall. Possible amendments include allowing homeowners in Ambleside and Dundarave to cut down one 35-centimetre tree every three years. Property owners in the rest of the district would be permitted to chop one protected tree per year.

The prospective bylaw would allow: “a reasonable number” of protected trees to be cut down for multi-family developments.