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Maple Ridge could look at revamping tree-cutting law

If you own a few acres in Maple Ridge and want to clear some land like the pioneers of the old days, fire up the old Husqvarna chainsaw and have at it.

You can cut and hack and clear your whole property, and that’s fine with the District of Maple Ridge under its existing tree bylaw.

But clear-cutting acreages causes drainage problems, erosion, and creates ugly viewscapes for neighbours.

So environmental planner Rod Stott says the tree protection bylaw, first passed in 1989, should be reviewed and some of the gaps filled.

Stott told council Monday that trees perform valuable economic functions by improving air quality and controlling storm water, providing shade, windbreaks and resulting energy savings to nearby buildings.

Over the course of half a century, one tree can produce more than $130,000 in economic benefits. The average tree can store up to 1,000 litres of water a day and produces enough oxygen for four people a year.

In Maple Ridge’s rural areas, permits for cutting trees are only required in conservation areas, near streams or on steep slopes or forested areas.

But Maple Ridge may be selling itself and its trees short, compared to other cities in Metro Vancouver.

“Municipalities are recognizing the value of all the services that water courses and trees provide us with,” Stott said.

Most municipalities require replacement of any tree taken down or charge fees for each tree cut.

If a tree is cut down in Abbotsford, three more trees have to be replaced elsewhere, or $546 per tree is charged to the developer.

In Richmond, there’s a 2:1 tree-replacement ratio, or $500 is charged for each tree taken down.

In Maple Ridge, trees only have to be replaced at a 2:1 ratio (two new trees for each one cut) in stream conservation areas.

Stott says revising the tree protection bylaw will ensure risk management is required and will bring its tree management policies into line with existing environmental goals.

The review would also improve tree replacement standards and look at ways to preserve trees in heritage or significant landscape areas.

But how the district approaches the topic and what it does depends on the environmental management strategy that council is to consider next month. That strategy will try to ensure bylaws are consistent with broader, environmental goals.

Maple Ridge passed its first tree-cutting bylaw in 1989, then updated it in 1993 by protecting trees along Shady Lane (124th Avenue) and within nine metres of the top of a bank of a creek.

In 2000, tree cutting was also regulated in areas that are being developed on steep slopes and in geotechnical protection areas.

In Maple Ridge’s urban areas, permits to cut trees are only needed in areas that can be subdivided, or on properties larger than an acre, on slopes, near streams, in heritage areas or on development sites. Otherwise, ordinary homeowners can chop down up to three trees yearly of any height or description without a permit.

In rural areas, permits are only needed on steep slopes, near streams, in forest reserves or development permit areas. That allows owners of most large properties to otherwise clear-cut their entire properties.

Stott said in his report that under the current bylaw, there is no way to preserve trees in heritage areas or in groundwater recharge areas. Neither is there any way to preserve trees in urban areas or development permit areas.

There’s a need “for appropriate wording and tools in bylaw schedules and regulations for more effective enforcement.”

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