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Richmond considers tightening up tree protection

Richmond's Tree Protection Bylaw will be dealt with at a planning meeting next week.
Sharon MacGougan (foreground) hopes a tree bylaw update will help protect bird habitats.

Richmond is looking to require more new trees to replace those being chopped down.

Proposed changes to the city’s Tree Protection Bylaw include making homeowners replace all trees they cut down – taking away a one-tree-per-year exemption – as well as requiring a 2:1 replacement when new single-family homes are built.

Currently, trees removed to make way for multi-family buildings have the 2:1 tree replacement rule in place, but, if council approves these changes, this rule would apply to single-family home construction as well.

City staff estimated this would add between 400 and 500 more replacement trees per year in Richmond. Removing the one-tree-per-year exemption could add 340 trees every year.

Sharon MacGougan, president of the Garden City Conservation Society, said she welcomes any tightening up of the tree protection bylaw, especially the 2:1 replacement rule.

But, she added, these proposed changes are “long overdue.”

MacGougan would also like to see the right types of trees planted in Richmond, ones that are “survivable” and “bird-friendly.”

Small, decorative trees or exotic ones don’t provide proper habitat for native birds, MacGougan said.

She pointed out often large trees that are good bird habitat are removed for development, but then they are replaced by exotic trees like palms.

“Then we’re wondering why we’re losing so many birds and we’re heading into extinction,” she said.

The conservation society is worried about the loss of biodiversity, she added, and what’s needed are pollinator trees and large coniferous trees.

Data from the city show, however, in the past three years, tree replacement in new developments has exceeded the 2:1 rule.

In 2018, there were 90 applications for rezoning that involved trees. That year, 1,044 trees were removed but 3,126 were planted as replacement trees.

In 2019, 161 trees were removed and 672 replaced these ones. And, in 2010, 137 trees were removed, replaced by 528 trees.

The changes to the Tree Protection Bylaw are being dealt with at next week’s planning meeting.

Also proposed is an increase to tree removal fees. Currently, homeowners can remove one tree per year without paying a fee. These new fees proposed are $62 for one tree but $75 per tree when multiple trees are removed.

Other changes could standardize the replacement tree size.