Let’s talk about birds, bees, and bylaws

Biodiversity ‘critical’ to health of all species, and bylaws must protect pollinators.

Earlier this month, the Sault Star’s Elaine Della-Mattia reported that city council passed a resolution for the building and legal departments to suggest amendments to bylaws regarding yard maintenance, with a focus on long grass on vacant properties. Hopefully as they update bylaws they will factor in best practices across the province, allowing for important pollinator gardens, and for the removal of standing water, to avoid some other localities missteps.

I may be the wrong person to discuss yard maintenance because I have no interest in a golf course-style lawn. Or perhaps I am the perfect person to write about it. If you’ve followed my past columns, I believe in no-mow May, to allow pollinators to have the best chance for survival. I wrote a column that trees on city property should be protected. I also like dandelions, because they’re pretty, and in a pinch can be eaten as salad greens.

According to Sault Bylaw 2012-10, grass and weeds cannot exceed 20 centimetres in length. However, distinctions need to be put in place like Thunder Bay did, for naturalized areas and pollinator gardens, and no-mow May recommendations.

Thunder Bay recognizes the need to support: “urban environmental stewardship, bio-diversity and … native species,” allowing for up to “50 per cent of open-yard areas to be naturalized.” Their recent changes removed the “requirement to cut all open-yard area,” and “remove undergrowth maintenance as it applies to naturalized areas.”

Since everyone is fine with the idea of naturalized gardens until it becomes a NIMBY situation, and bylaw enforcement is typically only triggered by neighbours’ complaints, Thunder Bay’s rules also: “encourage agreements with adjoining property owners for continuous naturalized areas” as well as “require buffers to adjoining lands for naturalized areas.”

Case in point, a woman in London, Ont., recently returned from vacation to find her 20-year naturalized pollinator garden with over 30 milkweed plants mowed down; based on a complaint from a neighbour. She also received a $125 fine. As monarchs are being considered endangered, this seems truly counterproductive. According to the City of London bylaws, the property owner is supposed to be notified, but the landowner said she didn’t receive notice. That said, the City had the right to remove the garden on their portion of land on the boulevard, but the rest just seems like trespassing, even vandalism, or destruction of property.

London and the Sault might want to look at Thunder Bay’s proposed wording to avoid issues like this in the future, especially the bad publicity.

The Sault’s bylaw does a good job at the idea of keeping properties clear of refuse, dilapidated structures, old and discarded cars, furniture, equipment, and garden refuse and fill. They’re doing the right thing to make sure out of town owners don’t leave their properties derelict.

Another couple areas to include (unless I missed them) are to have rules against stagnant water on a property, like the Township of Wilmot has in by-law no. 2004-38. (No one needs more mosquitos.) They also have a bylaw for home composting that could be contentious with neighbours if done improperly. And they allow for naturalized areas with buffers.

The bottom line is that bylaws are a tool to not only deal with curb appeal, but also for the safety of humans and other species. Biodiversity is critical to the health of all species and bylaws need to protect our pollinators, including birds, bees, and butterflies.

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