Private tree bylaw not recommended

Committee discussion July 8

Staff have released their report on the feasibility of a private tree bylaw which provides options for council’s consideration and outlines which ones staff support.

Staff do not support proceeding with a private tree bylaw, and instead endorse pursuing public education.

Council can approve one or more of the suggested options, take no action, or wait till staff bring a formal recommendation report back for consideration in September.

Among the actions supported by staff are to:

  • Provide information to residents about tree care and maintenance
  • Develop an annual Urban Forestry Symposium for residents to learn about trees
  • Include a “request a tree” feature on the city’s website
  • Allow the public to identify locations for tree planting on public property
  • Develop a Pledge to Plant a Tree program
  • Partner with community stakeholders to coordinate tree protection and replenishment
  • Develop an emerald ash borer (EAB) treatment rebate program
  • Recognize developers who demonstrate positive tree preservation practices
  • Delegate responsibility for the protection of woodlands between 0.5 and 1.0 ha. to Halton Region.

The report and appendices (available here – item 11) provide additional background research and comparison with other municipalities, as well as a summary of public input, which was evenly split for and against a tree bylaw. A slim majority (59%) said the city needed to do more to project trees on private property.

That percent increases dramatically in Ward 2, where 71% of residents said more should be done to protect and preserve trees in Burlington. In addition residents in Ward 2 (and Ward 5) were significantly more likely than residents in other wards to agree that too many trees in Burlington are being removed on private property,

That data is based on a statistically valid (within 3.5%) telephone survey of Burlington residents.

Information about the extent and reasons for private tree cutting is largely anecdotal, though staff surveyed 21 tree care companies in 2012. The survey found that approximately 1,813 trees were removed by all tree care companies combined:

  • 78% of trees removed were dead, diseased or dying.
  • 17% of trees were removed due to landscaping modifications, poor planting location or damage to property caused by the tree.
  • 5% of removals were a result of home improvements (e.g. additions, decks, etc.).

Protecting public trees

A companion staff report – Item 10 on public tree protection recommends introducing a permit fee for removal of a city tree for development or other reasons; and delegating decision-making on tree removal to the city arborist. Currently, requests for removal of city trees flow through council for approval.

There would be a requirement to submit a satisfactory arborist report detailing all impacted trees (typically costing between $300 and $2,000 depending on complexity and the number of trees); provide for sufficient replanting to compensate for the tree removal(s); and pay the permit/application fee.

Council approval to remove a tree would still be required where appropriate documentation has not been submitted or where sufficient replanting will not be provided.

My Take: I support introducing some sort of private tree bylaw, and am willing to look at a carrot rather than a stick approach to start. The bylaw could initially simply be a tree registry where residents must notify the city they are going to remove a private tree, and either make a contribution to a tree planting fund or plant a replacement tree on their property. We could also use the registry to track progress toward reaching a tree canopy goal, as other municipalities do. If we find that too many healthy trees are being cut down, we can initiate stronger measures through the tree bylaw. Trees may be on public property but they provide a community and city-wide benefit, and as such we must work to protect them.

Regarding public trees, as a matter of principle, I believe development should make way for trees, not the other way around. We need to do more to protect trees and greenspace in general, especially in the downtown where there is pressure to intensify. A sea of asphalt and buildings negatively impact quality of life, and reduces the health of our watershed (see my earlier post on this topic here).

Your Take: Do you support a private tree bylaw? If so, what should be in it? If not, how should the city work to preserve trees on private property? Leave a comment below or email me at


Burlington Private Tree Bylaw Not Recommended
Article Name
Burlington Private Tree Bylaw Not Recommended
Staff do not support proceeding with a private tree bylaw, and instead endorse pursuing public education.

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

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