On the last day of 2015, here are some reflections on how mature, healthy trees in Champlain Park have fared in the last 364 days.
Let’s accentuate the positive by noting that:
1. For the first time ever in Champlain Park community, city officials (Forestry Services) posted a tree protection sign and mandated that tree protection occur for a large maple tree on municipal property (front yard where a new home was being built) on Daniel Ave. Has this happened in other parts of the city or elsewhere in Kitchissippi? Impossible to know, but it was a step in the right direction here in Champlain Park.
2. Also new and to be applauded was Forestry Service’s decision to call on by-law officials to issue infraction notices related to alleged damage to distinctive trees on private property in Champlain Park neighbourhood. Four separate notices on four properties involved two bur oaks, one black walnut and one sugar maple. Three of the people who received summonses are infill developers, while the fourth is a resident property owner. In recent years, we have been urging the city to implement the damage (or injury) provisions of the Urban Tree Conservation By-Law by issuing permits to damage trees on private property. Forestry has refused to do this, even though other municipalities, like Toronto, have successfully covered this aspect of tree protection through a permitting process. The result of serious tree damage here in Ottawa now seems to be a penalty. While this is welcome and has a financial impact on the people being charged, if they are convicted, it does nothing to ensure a tree’s survival. In fact, two of the trees subject to damage infractions in the fall of 2015 have died.
Turning to the negative, it’s important to note that:
1. The City has not met its own deadline for issuing a report on how it implements the Urban Tree Conservation By-law. In May 2015, Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper, who sits on environment committee, made a formal request for city staff to provide statistics and information on this subject by reporting to the environment committee. The deputy city manager’s office agreed to compile and submit the requested data by the end of 2015. This has not happened. We have learned through informal networks that the info will be public in the first quarter of 2016. And if not? Will officials who are supposed to be reporting to a public body give themselves another extension?
2. When Forestry Services asks by-law enforcement to issue a summons related to damage to a distinctive tree under the Urban Tree Conservation By-law, it does not suggest what the penalty might be. The By-law states that infractions may carry a penalty up to $100,000. To date, and to the best of our knowledge, no one has paid a penalty of any kind related to infractions filed under the by-law. Court cases that involve a Justice of the Peace can take months to complete and clog up the docket at provincial court. Why not institute a better system whereby Forestry Services levies a fine for the infraction and the accused has an opportunity to pay that fine without going to court? Another administrative glitch at City Hall involves fines for tree by-law infractions going into general coffers. Why not have such fines funnelled into Forestry Services operating budget?
Looking into the crystal ball for 2016
1. In 2014, Legal Services at the City bungled the case of a property owner and contractor charged with inflicting alleged damage to a distinctive tree on Daniel Ave. With four cases now in its hopper—in Champlain Park alone!—will Legal Services ensure that its staff give upcoming cases the attention they deserve? 2016 will be the year to hold Legal Services accountable on this front.
2. The Urban Tree Conservation By-law allows city officials to issue stop work orders when trees are in peril. To date, Forestry Services has refused to use this clause in the by-law to stop tree damage at an early stage. Why not? Deep excavations and the lopping off of crown branches to make way for a building can inflict such severe damage that a tree will never recover. On Daniel Ave. a black walnut was so severely destabilized due to construction that Forestry Services demanded it be destroyed, with costs paid by the developer. It also initiated a by-law infraction and court summons to the developer based on the alleged damage. If a stop-work order had been issued, the tree might not have had to be destroyed.
3. The Auditor General of the City of Ottawa needs to be aware that Forestry Services seems to have no reporting mechanisms in place to trigger an annual report or any regular and public reporting of its activities. How can a branch of the city get away with this? The last time Forestry Services reported on its implementation of the 2009 Urban Tree Conservation By-law was in the fall of 2011. That report was described as “preliminary.” Although Forestry is not specifically named in Environment Committee’s June 2015 request to produce data on this by-law by the end of 2015, its staff would have had to cooperate with other segments of the city’s bureaucracy to fulfil this request. Since voluntary reporting does not elicit a response within a reasonable time frame, should the City’s Auditor General be urged to initiate a formal audit of Forestry Services’ operations in 2016?