If a significant tree falls in Tofino, how much should the person who felled it be fined?
That’s the question Tofino’s municipal council is asking as it prepares to add five trees to it’s Significant Tree Bylaw.
The conversation was sparked by a zoning amendment that was passed for 200 Campbell Street that involved a professional biologist examining the property for any potential significant trees and finding five: one large cedar and four smaller hemlocks.
During Tofino’s Aug. 10 regular council meeting, the district’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers said the five trees will be the first additions to Tofino’s significant tree bylaw since the Eik Street Cedar Tree received the distinction in 2000.
“We only have one other tree on the bylaw and soon we’ll have six,” he said.
Significant trees are protected from being cut down, but that protection is enforced by way of a fine and there is currently no fine associated with removing one in Tofino. District staff had suggested the fine be set at $500-$1,000, though Coun. Cathy Thicke suggested that was “very low.”
“With the cost of wood and for someone who’s running a vacation rental business, it’s perhaps only a one-night stay. I’m just putting that in context so that we can understand that while $500 isn’t insignificant, I’m questioning whether that’s enough,” she said.
“$5,000 or $10,000 to me would seem acceptable…When you look at the plan and what the property has been rezoned for and then you look at the proximity of the trees to what is being proposed, in my view we’re missing a zero in that $500. I think it should be $5,000 minimum personally, otherwise there’s really not much to lose by cutting down a tree.”
Coin. Duncan McMaster supported setting the fine at $5,000-$10,000.
“Otherwise, I don’t think it’s a deterrent. I think for $500-$1,000 I would take the trees down and hope I didn’t get caught and, if I did get caught, it’s probably not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things,” he said.
Coun. Anderson added that the monetary value of a tree should also be considered.
“The value of an old cedar tree is probably upwards of $10,000 in its lumber value,” he said. “The value of the lumber itself could be a motivator for removing a tree.”
The district’s manager of corporate services Nikki Best suggested there might be limits to how much the district can fine and that staff would research those limits and report back to council at a future meeting.