Abbotsford lost more than 100 acres of tree cover over the span of just 10 years, a new report for the city reveals.
About seven per cent of the city’s entire tree canopy disappeared between 2005 and 2015, a pace that has council looking for ways to slow the losses.
“We really need to do something quickly or a lot of it will be gone forever,” Coun. Patricia Ross said. She said Abbotsford currently has one of the weakest tree protection bylaws in the region, and that the city needs to consider taking a harder line when developers and homeowners want to start swinging the axe.
The study was commissioned as part of the city’s review of its tree protection bylaw. It suggests the current rules – which require developers to replace fallen trees with at least one and sometimes as many as three new trees – are failing to maintain Abbotsford’s urban forest. The study said that “major clearing for land development” was the cause of canopy loss in much of the city.
Ross has been the most-vocal proponent for the protection of trees in Abbotsford, and last fall voted against a proposed apartment building complex that will lead to the removal of massive, centuries-old Douglas fir (Coun. Dave Loewen also voted against the proposal). Ross said a new tree protection bylaw should allow the city to deny requests to take down trees, something that does not happen under the current regulations.
“We need to be able to say, ‘No, that one’s not going.’ We have to be able to do something different,” she said. “I’m very encouraged with what staff have come up with. It’s clear that our staff put a high value on trees and greenspace, as do council.”
Mayor Henry Braun agreed that changes are necessary.
“We’re not achieving our goal, which is to [add to] the overall urban tree canopy,” he told The News. “I think we have to evaluate the bylaw from a tree protection standpoint rather than [as] a tree removal tool.”
Braun and Ross both said it’s possible for developments to keep more trees, and that doing so would both enhance the quality of life in the city and increase the value of homes where trees are retained.
“I think there’s a better way to do things than we have,” Braun said
The report was discussed at a January meeting at which Coun. Ross Siemens floated the idea of a tree management master plan to provide a long-term strategy to address the issue. Ross said she liked that suggestion, and came away from the meeting pleased with the discussion and the response from fellow politicians. That, she said, was a change from when the current bylaw was crafted eight years ago ago. Ross said that bylaw was watered down and was one of the most disappointing days of her time in politics.
In 2005, the tree canopy covered about one-third of lands in Abbotsford’s urban containment boundary. Ten years later, that figure was down to 30.2 per cent. Were that pace to continue, it would leave only around one-quarter of Abbotsford’s urban lands covered by trees by 2035.
The study found the amount of tree cover varied significantly, depending on how the land beneath was being used and the age of the neighbourhoods.
The canopy of newer industrial areas was just 1.5 per cent, while older industrial areas were nearly double that, but still just 2.6 per cent.
Decades-old residential neighbourhoods had a canopy cover of 18.3 per cent. Newer neighbourhoods had about one-third less tree cover.
The report also blamed infill development that decreases the amount of greenspace on lots, and new developments that lack trees – sometimes due to zoning rules.
The city says it is still consulting with the public on the issue. Preliminary results are expected to come to the city’s parks, recreation and culture committee in the coming weeks.
The report suggests a variety of ways municipalities can improve their tree canopy including:Raising awareness among city staff, politicians and the publicEstablishing tree canopy targetsUpdating rules and bylawsIntegrating recommendations in city plansUsing programs to incentives to encourage tree planting and protections on private propertyWorking with the agriculture communityPartnering with government and business to encourage tree plantingIncreasing tree planting in parks and other city facilitiesRequiring developers to pay for boulevard tree plantingMonitoring bylawsExpanding stewardshipprogramsAdopting and promoting best practices for tree planting and maintenance
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said Coun. Patricia Ross cast the lone vote opposed to a development due to the required removal of a prominent tree. In fact, Coun. Dave Loewen also voted against the project due to concerns about the tree.