What difference would a private tree by law make to this city? Does anyone really want one?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  April 5, 2013   Burlington has an  Urban Forest Management Plan  that was approved in 2012 and included 40 recommendations, one of which is to consider a by-law that would limit or prevent people from cutting down trees on private property.

The moment you mention “private property rights” in this city all those die-hard “my house is my castle” conservatives find they have to check their blood pressure.

For some reason people feel that a tree that has been on a piece of land for more than 100 years can be cut down just because they hold the deed to the property.  The trees are owned by the community – they just happen to be on a particular person’s piece of property.  Burlington isn’t quite at that point in its intellectual evolution.

Trees add value to just about everything.  The values of homes on a well shaded street are always superior to that of houses in new developments that have a sapling on the front lawn.

Should we be cutting down trees of this size?

The city, through its Urban Forest Management Plan, is committed to working with its partners and the community in both urban and rural areas of the city to ensure that this essential resource is managed effectively to maximize tree cover and health, increase native biodiversity, minimize risks to public and property and contribute to the environmental sustainability and quality of life in Burlington.

“Burlington’s urban forest grows predominantly on private property” said Cathy Robertson, director of roads and parks maintenance. “We realize that the residents and other stakeholders who own or manage land in the city have the greatest ability to influence our urban forest.  However, we also realize that there is a broad range of opinions on this subject.”

The feasibility study will include a variety of engagement opportunities for affected stakeholders to actively participate in developing options and alternatives that provide a balance between the ability to use and enjoy private property, and the desire to protect trees.

The city will be conducting a telephone survey, along with a number of online surveys and a community workshop. A survey of what other municipalities are doing is being undertaken – some city’s have a very strong policy – others, like Burlington have nothing.

This is an urban forest.  Who do the trees belong to?  The people on whose property they are growing.  Fortunately, most of these are on city property.  But what if they were not all on city property?  Do the owners of the property on which the trees have the right to cut them down.  Imagine what this street would look like then.  Still think trees are private property?

Scott Stewart, general manager of development and infrastructure puts it this way:  learn what they are doing in this way: “At the end of the day, we want to have something that recognizes the impact trees have on our environment and quality of life but also is manageable from both the community’s and city’s perspective.”

The really  “sticky issues” usually get handed off to Stewart – right guy to have on this file.

While the feasibility of a private tree bylaw is looked at the city wants to update existing bylaw on wood lot protection in the Halton Region for woodlots between 0.5 and 1.0 hectares.


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2 comments to What difference would a private tree by law make to this city? Does anyone really want one?

  • colin

    There is absolutely nothing you can do if the new owner decides to cut it down; assuming the tree is on private property and not the city’s. (You can call the city to verify who’s land it is on.)
    This is why we need a private tree by-law.

  • Resident

    Can individual trees be designated as significant and therefore preserved?

    A home near us in Burlington has recently sold (we have no idea who bought it). It has a magnificent tall (60 foot) ‘tulip’ tree (Lirodendron tulipifera) that blooms with yellow tulip like flowers up its full height for weeks in the spring. It should be protected from developement. Is there any way this can be done?