Petition coming for bylaw to protect large, healthy trees
On April 17, I will be presenting a paper petition to North Cowichan council, signed by 500 North Cowichan residents, requesting a bylaw to protect all large, healthy trees. This petition is not about protecting ALL trees, nor is it intended to interfere with development. Neither does it present criteria for determining which trees are to be protected. I would leave that to council, perhaps in consultation with other municipalities that have similar bylaws, such as Duncan, Surrey, Saanich, Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Richmond, Penticton and Kamloops, to name a few.
I will primarily talk about why all property owners should want protection on large healthy trees on or near their properties. Large trees add liveability to a neighbourhood through visual enhancement, by physically oxygenating and cooling the air and houses, and by removing toxins, making air more breathable. Large, healthy trees mitigate flooding and provide needed windbreaks. The roots of large native trees can reach tens of metres into the ground, preventing landslides caused by excessive rain, earth tremors and erosion. This is especially important to consider in our area, where much housing is on hillsides and not sited on bedrock.
This danger is dramatically illustrated by some disastrous events that have happened, or are now happening, near our region because of developments built on or under clearcuts. On Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, a development built on a clearcut hillside is slowly sliding down to the beach, house by house, as homeowner watch helplessly. This has been covered by ABC News and NBC news.
A large landslide in Oso, Washington, killed 49 people in their homes. In before and after aerial photos of the slide, one can see that the forested area had been recently clearcut just above the destruction.
Yes, there will be a cost to such a bylaw. New free-standing houses will cost more, but there are many options for lower cost housing, such as higher density projects. Consulting arborists will be needed to assess trees. These consultants would save North Cowichan a lot of money in storm damage by removing weak and diseased trees that pose a danger to roadways and communities.
I want to emphasize that this petition is not against development. My father was a property developer and my daughter is a builder. Developers and builders are valuable for the very important role they play in providing habitat for us all. But what we are seeing all over our municipality is a repetitive series of cookie-cutter developments on clearcut land. As they are naturally creative people, I would prefer to ask developers to become even more creative, rather than endlessly employing the same tired templates, so tediously repeated across North America. If we ask them to, they can and will create exciting and interesting neighbourhoods by leaving the large trees in place, as was commonly done only 10 or 20 years ago.
But I understand that North Cowichan doesn’t even enforce provincial restrictions on clearing trees along fish-bearing streams. This neglect and rampant clearcutting is costing us the beauty of our communities.
This bylaw will also impact private property owners. Some will say that no one can tell a property owner what they must or must not do on their own land. And yet, we do place such restrictions on unsightly or noisy properties because they devalue their neighbourhoods. Everyone’s property is either enhanced or degraded by their neighbourhood and everyone’s property contributes to the enhancement, or otherwise, of their neighbour’s properties. And large trees make neighbourhoods more pleasant by increasing one’s sense of well-being, thus raising property values.
Victoria is rapidly growing, perhaps approaching 500,000. When some form of railway becomes a viable commuter option — and sooner or later, it will have to, council will be under even more pressure from developers. Try to picture our Valley covered with template, cookie-cutter, almost treeless developments. At that point, we will become just another faceless North American suburb. I believe now is the time for council to determine how this expanded development push will play out.