Chopping down a significant tree in Tofino will now take a sizable chunk out of the chopper’s bank account.
Tofino’s municipal council has added a new $10,000 fine to its significant tree bylaw.
The bylaw has been on the books since 2001 and was originally adopted to protect an 800 year old cedar tree on Eik Road, though no fine was attached to its enforcement capacity at the time.
The Eik Road tree remained the only tree protected under the bylaw until an August 10 council meeting where five additional trees were added.
Those five—one large cedar and four smaller hemlocks—were identified as significant by a professional biologist during a zoning amendment at 200 Campbell Street where the applicant had expressed interest in protecting the lot’s vegetation.
Council’s conversation around adding the five trees to the bylaw led to a discussion around how much a person who cuts down a significant tree should be fined.
In a report presented to council, Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers initially recommended a $500-$1,000 fine in August, but council balked at that figure, suggesting a significantly higher amount would be warranted.
On Sept. 28, Rodgers came back with a new $10,000 fine recommendation, which council unanimously approved without discussion, though mayor Dan Law commended Rodgers for his work to put the new recommendation on the table so promptly.
“Great work,” Law said. “Great way to respond to council’s request and a great way to diversify options for enforcement.”
Rodgers told the Westerly News that the significant tree bylaw currently comes into play whenever a new development application is submitted, but added that the district is set to launch a more extensive tree bylaw next year.
“As development occurs, especially in some of our larger areas and we identify trees that are important or habitats that are important, this could be a tool that we could use again in the future,” he said.
“As it stands now, we have this one tool that’s in place, but I imagine in the next year or two we’ll have another tree bylaw that encompasses the entire district of Tofino and has provisions for contiguous forest, natural forest, street trees, the ‘urban’ forest of Tofino; it will be quite more of a comprehensive bylaw.”
He added that new bylaw would eventually replace the town’s current Significant Tree Bylaw, though he cautioned it will take time for staff to put it all together.
“Rather than protecting one particular tree, you’re going to put in regulations that deal with all the trees in Tofino, or all the ones you deem are important. This is a fairly large undertaking,” he said. “The current bylaw has the six trees, the next bylaw will have potentially hundreds or thousands of trees and that’s part of the work that will be done to decide what exactly it is we’re trying to protect and that’s where the public consultation for such a bylaw would come into play…It’s a fairly large undertaking to do this and that’s part of the reason we haven’t attempted to do it yet.”
He added the work to put a new tree bylaw together must also consider the community’s development needs, most significantly the creation of new and affordable housing.
“The impacts of developing a tree bylaw as it pertains to housing or other types of development would definitely be considered through that process,” he said.
“We’re not at the point now that we’re saying we’re going to protect every single tree, we’re just saying that we want to develop a tree bylaw and the next step is to refine that and define what exactly we’re talking about and that hasn’t been decided yet and won’t be until we’ve had time to start the project and also engage with the community to see what the community’s values are with this respect.”
He said tree bylaws are common in communities throughout B.C., but pointed to “resources and staffing” as the key reasons the Eik Road tree was alone on the list for two decades.
“To do the work to determine a tree bylaw is a pretty large undertaking and, following that, the requirement to monitor that bylaw and enforce it, process it, administrate it, will take a lot of staff time and a lot of effort, not to mention the financial aspect of developing the bylaw in the first place. It’s a large undertaking for a small community,” he said.
He added the bylaw would leave room for trees to be cut down under a specific set of circumstances.
“I don’t know what those would be because we haven’t got that far, but it’s not always something where someone’s penalized. You would hope to build a tree bylaw that the majority of the community could support and inside that tree bylaw would be tools to allow people to still cut down trees under certain conditions,” he said. “It’s a tool to protect trees with the understanding that development is still going to happen.”
Work on the new bylaw was initially scheduled to start this year, however Rodgers said staffing issues led it to be deferred to 2022.
READ MORE: Tofino adds five trees to protected list