Limbing large tree nothing short of ‘treeson’

A large tree across from Sault Ste. Marie resident Mark Menean’s property was limbed in April. One day, it was providing shade as well as habitat for wildlife and it was converting carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the environment. The next day, it was reduced to an eyesore trunk with amputated limbs.

Menean believes that the tree was on city property, and wondered how this could happen. He contacted the city and was told that the city does not have any bylaws in place to prohibit any type of removal of trees, brush or tall weeds/grass from city-owned property by a public individual.

Having just read my Earth Day column, Menean contacted me to ask if that seemed right. My first thought was, what if everyone went full Once-ler from the Lorax and cut the trees closest to them on city land? Shouldn’t the city be concerned? My second thought was, jokingly, that I guess we can get our Christmas tree from Bellevue Park this year.

I was reminded of the quote from the Lorax by Dr. Seuss: “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” With that, I chose not to ‘leaf’ this issue alone. I did some research on the topic, and according to section 270 (1) of the municipal act, all municipalities are required to have policies on: “the manner in which the municipality will protect and enhance the tree canopy and natural vegetation in the municipality.” The Sault does not have this in place currently, though it was supposed to be completed by March 1, 2019.

I also reviewed policies and bylaws that other communities have, in context with their location and number of trees. For example, London, Ont., has fines from $500 to $200,000 if their tree protection bylaws are broken. They protect trees over 50 centimetres in diameter, and all trees in certain predetermined zones of the city.

Then, I branched out and spoke with Don McConnell, director, planning and enterprise services, for the city, and was pleased to hear the city’s official plan will be released in the next couple months. It does include a section on protecting and enhancing trees. He also put me in touch with one of the city’s solicitor/prosecutors, Jeffrey King, to help clear the forest from the trees on this issue.

Firstly, King said that while there is no bylaw currently to protect the trees on city streets, there is a bylaw covering parks. According to By-law 80-128 Parks 12(2) relating to park trees, shrubs, flowers: “No person shall break, deface, but or otherwise damage or remove any tree or tree part, shrub or bush, flower or flower bed…” (There goes my ‘against the grain’ free Christmas tree joke.) It would be even better if beavers could also be held to the by-laws. Have you seen their latest demolition work on the causeway out to Topsail Island?

Back to the city street trees, King was not stumped by my questions (his pun, not mine). He mentioned that if a tree is on the boundary line to city property, according to the forestry act, the city would need to give consent for tree removal. If someone does not consult the city about removing a tree on city property or on the boundary, they could be pursued using other standing laws such as vandalism, trespass, and/or mischief.

King said that the city will be looking into the tree maiming raised by Menean, to establish if it was within the municipal boundary, and what should happen with the remaining “tree.”

If the tree was on city property, I hope the Once-ler in question will have to pay a fine, and will be mandated to watch the Lorax. There is precedent for this, as in 2018, a judge ordered that a man serving a year sentence for a deer poaching scheme had to watch the movie Bambi once a month.

I looked up the Property Standards Yard Maintenance bylaw to see if the eyesore would be covered there, but I went out on the wrong limb. It reads: “Every yard, including vacant lots shall be kept clean and free from: dead, decaying or damaged trees or other natural growth, or branches or limbs that create an unsafe condition.” I don’t think this “tree” presents an unsafe condition, other than drawing the neighbours’ ire at having to look at it.

McConnell is right; we are not in southern Ontario where trees are at a premium: and a bylaw is only worth implementing if enforcing it can be successful as well. We may not need a tree by-law for trees on our own property, except perhaps to save old-growth trees (like in London, Ont.). But, we might want bylaws for trees on specific streets, known for their beauty and charm from being a tree-lined sanctuary whether on city or private property.

I don’t think I’m barking up the wrong tree by thinking that trees on all city property, not just in parks, should be protected by bylaws. One hour with a chainsaw can destroy hundreds of dollars of investment in trees, not to mention dozens of years of growth, and unquantifiable environmental benefits and beauty. Most of us are reasonable people, but for some, they may need to be reminded in advance that they don’t have the right to cut down trees adjoining their property.

If we had a Lorax in the Sault, he would be weeping for the ‘treeson’ that started this column, and he might repeat his words: “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And I am asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs. Oh please do not cut down another one.”

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