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New Mission land-clearing bylaw introduced to target developers axing properties

Currently, if cutting occurs prior to application with city, it’s as if they never existed
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In an effort to combat developers hacking down large swaths of Mission’s wooded areas, a new bylaw regulating land clearing has been introduced.

Mission’s current tree bylaws are “insufficient,” according to the report to council on July 18, and developers are capitalizing on the lack of effective regulation. The bylaw draft will go to a public hearing by Aug. 15 for third reading.

Coun. Cal Crawford said he supported moving the bylaw forward, but wants the verbiage and rules around land clearing simplified.

“We cannot sit back and let this lollygag for another year or two, things have to be done,” Crawford said. “If you go onto a piece of land and clear it off, no matter what’s on there, you’re in trouble.”

Better protection of Mission’s trees has been identified as a significant need going back to the city’s 2008 Environmental Charter.

Mission is one of only three municipalities without an effective tree-management bylaw, and there is no record of any enforcement.

The city tried to pass a new tree bylaw in 2020, but the majority of the respondents to a public survey (72 per cent) were opposed due to the cost of permit fees, reports, replacement trees and the burden placed on rural land owners.

Respondents were supportive of a prohibition of expansive clear-cutting, but many said there needed to be a distinction between developers, and property owners maintaining their properties. Staff were asked to go back to the drawing board.

Lax rules around land clearing threaten the community’s biodiversity and animal habitats, risk infestations of invasive plant species, windfall hazards, increased erosion of sloping lands, soil contamination and a reduction in air quality.

Currently, if clear cutting occurs prior to an application being submitted, it’s as if they were never there.

“Essentially, there is no regulation for tree-removal activities unrelated to development,” the report says.

Some developers would rather chop down parcels to eliminate problems before they are identified, according to the report; at-risk species, provincially protected aquatic features, and significant trees are liabilities.

The current tree-management bylaw only affects the Silverdale area. Permits are rarely issued, and there have been instances where 100 significant trees have been cleared in a two-month period without a permit, according to the report.

Even if enforcement took place, the max fine is $10,000 and would require going to court, requiring substantial evidence and resources.

By the time the staff typically finds out about clear cutting, not even the stumps remain, the report said.

The new land-clearing bylaw would be city wide, repeal the existing tree-management bylaw, and give bylaw staff escalating enforcement tools with fines of up to $50,000.

The policy is described as less restrictive with fewer permit triggers, reduced costs and containing exemptions for certain types of cutting.

It only applies to properties larger than a quarter acres, when 10 protected trees or more are being cut over a year.

Land clearing is defined as disturbing, removing, displacing, stockpiling trees, shrubs or herbaceous plants; it includes any activities like ringing, poisoning, burning, topping, limbing, or excessive pruning – anything that would damage the health of the tree.

Permit issuance may require arborist and geotechnical reports, tree-replacement and erosion plans, and environmental assessments.

Fees would be $50 to clear a quarter acres, $50 per tree in a special area, with an additional $50 per tree over the annual limit.

Land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and city activities are exempt from fees, along with cutting in accordance with fire-interface reports or by a city-approved arborist, and if a tree poses an imminent danger of falling.

The bylaw will be further developed under the new 2022 Environmental Charter, which has identified tree retention as a significant method to address climate change.

Staff recommend undertaking an assessment of Mission’s tree canopies to guide next steps in regards to protection.

Mayor Paul Horn also raised concern that the policy seems to be “counting trees,” which hasn’t been effective in Silverdale.

“We had a property that cut 50 trees and told us 25 were cut by Dec. 31, and 25 we’re cut after. And of course we couldn’t tell,” Horn said. “I don’t want to relive what hasn’t worked.”

He added he wanted consistency and uniformity, otherwise the bylaw would be ignored.

RELATED: New tree-management bylaw aims at developers, but raises concerns for rural Missionites

RELATED: Mission’s tree-management bylaw axed, sent back to staff for rework


@portmoodypigeon
patrick.penner@missioncityrecord.com

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