All About Trees: Protecting and Preserving Trees in King

Feb 23, 2018

by Mike Shackleford and Bruce Craig

During our General Meeting on January 28 at the Seniors Centre in King City, we (CCKT Board) hosted a lively public discussion titled “All About Trees”.

The well-attended meeting included many King residents who are concerned about the preservation and protection of both public and privately owned trees throughout the Township. For many the loss of several large, mature trees in 2017, and the clear-cutting of residential lots in the three main villages and in rural areas has led to requests for improved conservation and the crafting of a reasonable, balanced tree by-law.

While King Township has several policies to consider trees in planning applications and site plans, there is currently no tree by-law or regulations in place to protect or manage healthy, mature trees on public or private lands.

We determined that it would be helpful to invite two passionate and knowledgeable presenters, Edith George, an advocate for protecting heritage trees and Peter Wynnyczuk, Executive Director for the Ontario Urban Forest Council to speak. The presentations by Peter and Edith, followed by a Q & A time, addressed many of the concerns and questions raised, and provided a number of viable options for effective conservation of trees on both public and private lands.

Also, in attendance were three members of King Township Council, Mayor Steve Pellegrini, Councilor Cleve Mortelitti and Councilor Debbie Schaefer, as well as provincial electoral candidate for King-Vaughan, Marilyn Iafrate. All raised important questions and shared relevant comments relating to tree by-laws and planning applications.  Peter’s and Edith’s experience and insights were very helpful in responding effectively to their questions and those of many attendees.

Edith opened with a description of the criteria that designates a tree as a “Heritage Tree”. The major criteria are: Rarity, prominence, age, health and future longevity, appearance, historical and cultural links and importance to the community. What was notable was the fact that a tree must meet only one of these criteria to be eligible.

Edith then went on to describe two remarkable heritage trees in Toronto – two ancient red oaks on the upper bank along the Humber River Valley, estimated to be between 250 and 400 years old. She has worked with other individuals and community organizations to protect these trees. Edith is bringing the stories of the two oaks and relevant information for identifying and designating significant heritage trees to communities all across Ontario.

Peter Wynnyczuk, who has many years of experience as a qualified Arborist was the Urban Forest Supervisor in Richmond Hill. During this time Peter led the process to craft a suitable Tree By-law for Richmond Hill that was approved in 2007. Currently Peter is the Ontario Advisor to TreeCanada, the Executive Director of the Ontario Urban Forest Council and an instructor at Sir Sanford Fleming Community College.

Peter’s informative presentation focused mainly on several options available to municipalities for preserving and managing trees including the actual legislation necessary to protect significant trees on public and private lands.

Peter explained that municipal by-laws are fundamental in creating the foundation for land use planning and transportation as well as the protection of trees. He stressed that the Municipal Act provides the tools for a municipality to create a tree by-law, but it is vitally important that the policies of the Planning Act “mirror” the tree bylaw within the Municipal Act. Failure to do so will result in the Planning Act overriding the tree bylaw.

Answering questions from the audience, Peter indicated that many municipalities have limited resources like staff and budget. It takes commitment for a municipality to gain expertise and competence on the subject of tree protection. He provided many of the tools for establishing a tree by-law: By zoning, by a conservation easement, through the Heritage Act or the bequest of land and through the Municipal Act.

Peter stressed that the important goal of tree by-laws and complementary policies in the planning process is to lead to meaningful “conversations” with land owners about how best to conserve existing trees and enhance the tree canopy through additional planting.

He suggested that the Lake Simcoe and Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) have a role in assisting a municipality in the creation of a tree by-law. He also reminded the audience that a by-law is only a “piece of paper” until it is tested in court.

The presentations were followed by refreshments while both speakers spent a generous amount of time answering individual questions from various guests. Many of the sixty plus people who had attended the meeting stayed to chat and learn more from Edith and Peter.

Since the January 28th meeting CCKT has created a Trees Focus Group which has been invited to meet with Township staff to review policies currently in place that consider trees in planning applications and in Township projects such as parks, and to discuss an effective process in drafting regulations to improve conservation and protection of trees. “Balance” appears to be the operative word in achieving a reasonable Tree By-law for King Township.