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Bylaw restricting tree cutting to help everyone, expert says

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Troy Shantz

A tree bylaw is exactly what the city needs, says a well-known local naturalist.

Shawn McKnight, co-owner of Return The Landscape, believes many residents don’t understand the true value trees bring and that implementing steps to discourage their removal can protect something important to everyone.

“People think their yard is their yard, but no, it’s a piece of a really big puzzle,” he said.

“If everybody thinks they can do whatever they want, and everybody makes mistakes and takes out too much, it’s gone.”

The city has written a tree bylaw that is now out for public consultation.

The draft requires every property owner in the urban area who wants to remove a tree to first obtain a permit, at a cost yet to be determined.

To get a permit, a written application and plan or drawing of the property is required, and the city can refuse to issue a permit.

Fines would run up to $5,000 per offence.

The draft bylaw also authorizes municipal tree officers to enter onto private properties to ensure compliance.

McKnight said trees add economic value to properties by improving air quality, regulating temperature and absorbing storm run-off.

When a homeowner takes down a shade tree it results in higher air conditioning costs, he said.

But the bylaw should be accompanied by education and an initiative to promote the planting of appropriate native trees, added McKnight, whose non-profit saves native plants threatened by development.

“They don’t have to be heavy with the tree bylaw,” he said. “But I think they should be heavy with the education.”

Nevertheless, the city’s plan has run into stiff opposition, most recently from the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce.

“The most offending part of it is the fact that it infringes on private company and private landowners rights,” said president and CEO Shirley de Silva.

“That was the one thing that came up a lot.”

Tree service companies and real estate officials attended the first of two member focus groups held in June, she said.

“They were concerned about a number of things, “ she said.

“It’s a draft bylaw, so the opportunity for modifications is now.”

The Chamber is hosting a second tree bylaw meeting Sept. 14, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 556 Christina St. N.

City Hall’s public consultations are set for Sept. 12 at Clearwater Arena, from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Sept. 19 at City Hall, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

A final staff report to council is expected Oct. 23.





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