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Proposed bylaw in Edmonton aims to protect, preserve urban trees

The City of Edmonton wants to preserve and protect urban trees with a new proposed bylaw.

According to a city report, Edmonton’s urban forest consists of approximately 380,000 boulevard and open space trees and more than 3,000 hectares of natural stands.

“Trees have many important ecosystem benefits — especially mature trees,” urban forestry operations supervisor Melissa Campbell said.

The report said between January 2019 and April 2021, nearly 200 work sites across the city have been left in poor condition, with some degree of tree damage.

“When trees get damaged by construction they often lose many of those ecosystem benefits and sometimes their lifespan is shortened.”

The goal with the new bylaw is to prevent damage from happening in the first place.

“A lot of times there is no tree protection,” Campbell said.

“The city wants to promote working around the trees carefully, avoiding damage — potentially changing construction techniques in order to preserve these trees.”

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The report noted right now there’s no proactive tree protection or preservation bylaw in effect in Edmonton. It adds, current tools for tree protection are more reactive and have limited
enforcement ability.

The bylaw proposes a tree permit be required whenever work is happening within five metres of a boulevard or open space tree and within 10 metres of a natural area.

Failing to submit a plan and secure the proper permits could result in a fine.

“We’re hoping not to have to fine for damages,” Campbell said. “If people don’t submit for a permit, we will be able to issue a fine at that point.”

READ MORE: River valley trees illegally cut down in west Edmonton

More Red Tape

Mick Graham is the president of Single Tree Builders and is on the board of the Infill Development in Edmonton Association (IDEA).

He said he agrees with fining people who are blatantly non-compliant, but it’s the extra layer of red tape he has an issue with.

“Everybody loves big mature trees — it’s one of the reasons I like being an infill builder,” Graham said.

“I’m quite happy to protect them. What I resent is another permit fee.”

He said he’s not sure what’s gained by the permitting process.

“Already, infill builders have a lot more fees and scrutiny and requirements than builders in new neighborhoods,” he explained.

According to Graham, responsible builders are already doing their best to follow forestry department guidelines to protect the trees.

“That’s one of the frustrating things for me,” he said. “I’ve done the proper paperwork — I’ve built the fences.”

Graham would like to see more evidence of cause and effect.

“The damage that’s done, in my experience, is really trivial” he said.

“I don’t know how else we can get these things built and meet these infill targets and not have the prices get even higher than they already are.”

The bylaw proposal will be presented to the urban planning committee on Tuesday. Campbell said they will be looking for feedback on how to move forward.

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