Guelph Urban Forest Friends is a local group that advocates for better protection of urban trees and canopy. We make delegations to City Council, hold events to raise awareness about the importance of urban trees, and distribute information about the many benefits of trees, and the threats to trees, through our web site.
We have serious concerns about the continued loss of mature trees in our City and hear frequently from upset residents about tree removals. We are submitting these questions to candidates for City Council and respectfully request your response by October 18. The responses we receive will be posted on our web site and e-mailed to our list of 500 supporters.
For further information, please check our website (www.guffguelph.ca) or contact us. Thank you for your response. GUFF
Craig Chamberlain – Ward 3 Candidate
1. Currently all tree planting, maintenance and removal activities are the responsibility of the City’s Operations Department. Will you support and advocate for establishing an Urban Forest department headed by a forester with a degree in urban forestry? Why or why not.
“Yes” to having qualified staff, “no” to an Urban Forest department: It is best that issues relating to tree care and a sustainable urban forest be integrated into operations — how we care for our parklands and public areas. It’s best that our operations aren’t divided, such that the staff caring for our parklands and other public areas think what they do around trees (mowing, trimming…) doesn’t impact on them, that it is some other department’s problem. Our public trees are assets and long term investments, and it is imperative that we don’t have departments operating at cross purposes. Further, departments require support staff, supervisory staff, vehicles, etc. While some of this could be portioned away from the existing staff and fleet, I am concerned that more resources would be directed to something that may sound good but in fact lead to negative outcomes – fewer trees actually being planted and maintained (i.e. fewer dollars available for trees because of overhead), and a reduced sense of responsibility on the part of the Operations Department in how they perform their duties around trees. Better to have it under one department and budget so that supervisory staff for Operations are motivated to ensure trees are not damaged.
As for having qualified staff to care for our trees, yes, but this may not always involve staff with degrees. It is important to not manage an operational matter.
2. Shade is important for reducing the heat island effect and for reducing the risk of skin cancer. Will you support and advocate for establishing a shade policy which would set goals for shade coverage along streets/sidewalks, in parking lots and in parks? Why or why not.
Yes, in principal, for two more reasons – water and energy conservation – but it would come down to the actual wording of the policy, which should also be species-specific. I noticed the wording, “which would set goals” – I’m not sure we need “goals”. If we do have a policy, we don’t need goals, we need “standards”, otherwise we just have a political statement to point to when we want to feel good but ends up embarrassing us when what is actually happening is examined. A policy needs to have outcomes that can be evaluated, not goals that are never met.
3. There is currently no program in place to recognize or protect trees that are exceptionally large, old or have a significant history in the City. Will you support and advocate for a city program to be adopted during the next term of council aimed at designating and protecting Heritage Trees? Why or why not.
Not sure – when considering policy we have to ask how the policy could evolve in a way that was not originally intended. I imagine this would require a committee of review to implement, which could become quite politicized.
If a tree on private property is designated, is the City assuming responsibility for it? Completely? What risk does that create for the City? If the City doesn’t assume responsibility for a designated tree and the risk it can pose to property and people, I am also concerned this policy could negatively impact on property values – that prospective buyers would be concerned about the approvals required to remove a designated tree in decline. Also, Heritage cannot override safety.
4. Though the City has adopted a goal of 40% tree canopy coverage, information about tree canopy loss due to development, road construction, etc. is not being collected. Will you support and advocate for collecting publicly accessible data, funded in the next budget cycle, on the annual removal of mature trees and loss of canopy within the City? Why or why not.
Not at this time. I agree it would be helpful to know where we stand in terms of meeting our goal, but based on my door knocking, this is not a priority for the upcoming budget. I think we can work towards our goal with the tools we have, i.e. site plan requirements. We can require specific planting schemes or specific protections for trees as part of issuing a building permit.
5. The City does not have an inventory of trees in our urban forest (species, size, health, etc.), nor are trees given value as “assets” or “green infrastructure.” Will you support and advocate for an inventory of trees in the City, including the dollar value of the trees (using currently available computer programs that compute the dollar value of ecological services provided by trees)? Why or why not.
I know our “green capital” or “green infrastructure” provides measurable contributions to our economy, and I understand the value of having this contribution better understood and considered when evaluating a proposal. I don’t think this information would be weighted very highly in decision-making and so I don’t support this expense at this time.
6. City Council recently passed a tree by-law which requires permits for removing large trees on properties over half an acre in size. This tree by-law only covers a small percentage of properties within the City. Will you support and advocate for expanding the existing tree by-law to cover all properties in Guelph? Why or why not.
No. Removing a large tree is expensive and is not something most residents undertake without good reason. It’s dangerous work – a job most people cannot do safely themselves, and they readily recognize that. It’s also a job most people try to put off, preferring to wait to see how the tree improves or declines from one year to the next. They generally consult with others about the tree, and rely on third party expertise. The process of deciding what to do with a tree typically begins by asking if there is something that can be done to save it. Even if it is obvious a tree is in decline or becoming dangerous, people are generally sensitive to how their neighbours would react to it being removed and proceed cautiously.
My wife and I had to remove a declining sugar maple from our property and if we had the additional expense of a permit, I am not sure if we would have been able to do it, or what it would have meant for our household budget. The tree was also quite close to a sidewalk used by children, and close to power lines, which is to say it was in the public interest for us to remove it — and quite frankly it should have been done sooner. The experience sensitized me to the issue of publicly-dangerous trees located on private property. I am concerned that permits to remove trees will discourage property owners from removing trees that should be removed.
Many of the seniors I met in my door knocking want to live independently, in their homes as long as possible, and I don’t want to make it so that they cannot afford to maintain their properties. Similarly, we need to ensure younger home owners in our older neighbourhoods can afford to remove a tree that has become problematic – and permits represent an added expense.
In closing, I appreciate my responses may not be what you would have wanted but I hope you also see that I do understand the issues and have tried to show respect for your concerns by the thought I have put into my responses, tempered by the concerns I am clearly hearing for other priorities through my door knocking.