Coun. Erwin Wiens, left, says the town needs a tree planting policy. EVAN LOREEEvan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Tree protections in Niagara-on-the-Lake don’t cut it.

That was the sentiment of councillors at a meeting Feb. 13 regardless of which side of the fence the tree fell on.

After two residents came to council to appeal staff decisions to bar them from cutting down trees on their own property, some councillors took issue with the town’s approach to tree preservation.

“I don’t think we should be punishing any resident that wants to remove one of 11 trees on their property,” Coun. Maria Mavridis said.

Under current town regulations, residents need a permit from the town before they can legally cut down trees on their property.

Those permits can be refused by town bylaw officers if the tree is found to be in good health and if the resident cannot provide a good reason for removing it.

Matt Dietsch wanted to cut down a large honey locust on his lot but bylaw officer Harry Althorpe said staff refused his application because he had given “no legitimate reason” to warrant the permit.

“It’s not causing any damage to the property,” Althorpe said.

Dietsch said the tree was a pain to maintain and left little room to put up an inflatable pool for his kids. 

Council voted to approve his tree-cutting permit after Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa suggested Dietsch be required to plant a new tree. 

“We don’t have a tree policy in the town to plant more trees,” Coun. Erwin Wiens said.

Rather than penalizing residents for cutting them down, he suggested council should set money aside in its budget to plant more trees.

“For us to put our town issues on Mr. Dietsch’s backyard is not fair,” Wiens said.

But Coun. Sandra O’Connor was against chopping down the “very large tree.”

“Large, mature trees like this one store more carbon than small ones and are therefore better at fighting climate change,” she said.

“We have stormwater management issues across our municipalities and trees are the least costly approach to stormwater management by reducing the amount of runoff that enters storm systems,” she added. 

Citing regional statistics, O’Connor said the town has the smallest tree canopy of any town in the region at 18 per cent.

“It’s not fair to say we need to plant more trees,” Wiens said. As an agricultural community, “We’re feeding the nation.”

He said the low tree canopy was partly due to a surplus of farm land across town.

Resident Mark Smith also appealed his denial of a tree-cutting permit, though he did not speak at the meeting. 

According to Althorpe, Smith wanted to remove a blue spruce from his front lawn because of safety concerns. 

The tree is in good health and did not present a safety hazard for pedestrians, Althorpe said.

Council sided with the bylaw officer and denied Smith’s appeal.

By Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 22, 2024 at 11:54

This item reprinted with permission from   The Lake Report   Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
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