Process of updating tree policy paused as budget nears

(Gazette file photo)
OLIVIA TIMM

FOR THE GAZETTE

Committee of the whole referred a proposed updated Tree Management and Preservation Policy to the next council meeting as budget considerations are around the corner. 

Susan Banks, Chairperson of the Tree Policy Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee, outlined the new policy items last weekend.

“It has been a long road since (then) Councillor Lenny Epstein moved a motion in Nov. 2015 to update the municipality’s tree policy. I would like to thank the community members who spent many hours on this project and the staff who worked hard to move the policy forward,” she said. “The Ad-Hoc Committee spent over a year drawing up recommendations for a new policy. The Committee examined many municipal policies and received guidance from several qualified arborists and an Urban Forest professional.”

The three major items on the new policy, she continued, are to plant more trees, develop good tree maintenance and to provide tree protection requirements during construction.

In Banks’ deputation, she said that the committee felt that towns and villages in the County needed more street trees to provide shade and cooling in a warming climate and therefore, have made suggestions as to how to increase the tree canopy. 

One of the other additions to the tree policy, which was added to the amended motion, was in regard to planting a variety of tree species and adding native trees to the area to increase biodiversity, she added. The policy, Banks said, includes planting specifications, pruning specifications and specifications for maintenance around trees, including snow removal. 

Banks also identified that tree protection is a key part of the new policy, mentioning the importance of saving trees rather than clear-cutting them, and explained activities such as the storage of building materials, the operation of equipment and piling, grading and excavation of soil are all detrimental to the health of a tree considered worthy of saving.

Councillor John Hirsch. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“We cannot then call it a Tree Protection Zone,” she said. “Tree protection measures should be clear and concise and not undermined by mixed messages. The committee feels that eventually a tree management policy should include private lands, especially woodlands, Environmentally Protected Areas, Heritage Land, and wetlands.”

Coun. Hirsch brought to attention the financial considerations under the staff report, pointing to the costs associated with tree planting, equipment and staffing. He asked as staff and council begin to discuss budget considerations in December, how they can address community involvement to mitigate costs without breaking the bank. 

“It is quite possible to get many different grants for tree planting because it has been encouraged throughout the country, in fact throughout the world, largely because of our climate warming. It is seen as an affordable and useful way to capture carbon. I did look at those possible expenses. Obviously, if we want to deal with the climate issue, we’re going to have to put some money into it,” Banks said. “It’s said that planting trees is the least expensive and most doable of activities to mitigate climate warming.”

She also suggested community members would look after the tree at least for the first two years and the municipality could use cost-effective equipment like pick-up trucks and water tanks to dispense water on the trees. 

“I feel that maybe the municipality’s putting too much money into removing trees and certainly not enough into planting trees. I feel that’s got to change,” Banks urged. “We hope that Council will adopt the new Tree Management and Preservation Policy. The Policy contains some of the best municipal tree practices that we have found in our research. We trust that Council will provide a suitable budget, to enable tree canopy improvements. We also strongly recommend the hiring of a Municipal Arborist to ensure the policy is successful.

Ewa Bednarczuk, a terrestrial ecologist, commented on the benefits urban tree canopies provide to a community in the form of ecological goods and services, and financial value of forest cover. 

According to the Natural Heritage Strategy for the municipalities on the Bay of Quinte, published by the Bay of Quinte remedial action plan in 2015, Prince Edward County has about 19,000+ hectares of forest cover – about 18 per cent of its lined area.

Based on the analysis of the nearby Ontario greenbelt, which estimates the value of forest ecosystems goods and services at over $5000 per hectare, per year, Banks said the annual forest ecosystem goods and services amount to $105 million annually in The County.

Lise Boise, member of the Tree AhHoc policy committee, rebutted staff concern on feasibility due to lack of staff and equipment – noting that last year, 83 trees were removed, and none to her knowledge were planted.

“It seems like financial considerations are the main reason for not planting more trees or adequately caring for them,” she said. “The use of volunteers was questioned in our policy development meetings – would they be reliable? I’d like to remind council that a lot of what is good about the County works because of the volunteers. If you look at food banks, the women’s institute, Picton fair, town halls, community gardens, just to name a few. They are all run more or less by volunteers, so I think it’s fair to say that volunteers in the County are pretty responsible and reliable,” she said.

Boise also said the committee hopes to have a data collecting system established to determine the progress of the tree canopy in Prince Edward County.

Some councillors had concerns that the cost of hiring a full-time arborist is unnecessary, considering some municipal staff have been trained to identify tree canopy issues. However, there are inventive ways staff can look at this, Mayor Ferguson said, such as hiring an arborist on retainer. 

Coun. MacNaughton also mentioned the interest in exploring community involvement for care and maintenance of trees through the Adopt A Tree program in the future.

The motion that council receive the report and approve the Tree Management and Preservation Policy was amended to add the inclusion of the financial considerations, emphasis on native trees, mechanical brushing and the requirement for tree size on municipal property as well as any other applicable input by staff. The new Tree Management and Preservation policy will be discussed at the next Council meeting.