A member of the public shows his support for a tree bylaw during Township council’s March 5 evening meeting. Miranda Gathercole Langley Times

Township-wide tree protection bylaw ‘long overdue’ say residents

Hanae Sakurai calls on Township to form standing committee for new tree bylaw

The days of cutting down significant trees with no penalties in the Township of Langley could be limited.

On March 5, Langley resident Hanae Sakurai called on council to form a standing committee to review a comprehensive tree protection bylaw for the entire Township.

Sakurai, a professional arborist and tree protection official with the City of Richmond, spoke on behalf of a group residents who believe a tree protection bylaw is “long overdue.” Many showed their support at council chambers by wearing green, and holding signs that read “trees have feelings too!”

READ MORE: Fort Langley residents campaign for Township-wide tree bylaw

The Township is one of the only jurisdictions in the Lower Mainland without a municipal-wide tree bylaw, and its current provisions in the subdivision and developing service bylaw — which come into effect only on properties being developed — is lacking, Sakurai said.

“Trees are a viable community resource that benefit all of us. As a result of not having a comprehensive tree bylaw, there is no enforcement or penalties for tree damage or removal. There aren’t any designated staff to oversee proper tree protection during construction,” Sakurai told council.

“We seek a bylaw with room for common sense, where qualified staff can exercise some judgment based on industry best practices, professional skills, and knowledge to maintain and improve the urban forest in Langley. The goal of the bylaw should be preserving healthy trees where possible, based on their long-term viability, permitting the removal of those trees that are either in poor condition or in conflict with development, and requiring the planting of new trees.”

When it comes to farmland, Sakurai suggests following the models of communities like Delta or Surrey, which face similar challenges.

These include having no permit process fees for one-tree removal applications, differentiating between urban and rural areas, or creating exemptions for farmers.

Coun. Petrina Arnason said she is hopeful the Township can move forward with this committee.

“I just have to say, being at the epicentre of building, it is highly appropriate at this time that we start to look at what other communities have done to make sure that we are in line with protecting our forest assets,” Arnason said.

Coun. Kim Richter said she also likes the idea of a standing committee, and noted that it could become an election issue.

Coun. Charlie Fox asked how this bylaw would fit in with the ALR, where tree cutting is permitted for farming purposes.

He said the last time a tree bylaw was mentioned, the push back they received was substantial, and that since Sakurai’s delegation was published on the council agenda, they have already received concerns from ALR property owners.

Sakurai said their intent is not to stop these residents from clearing their land for farming.

“I do want to point out that we have seen clearing of trees on ALR land and then the property owners asking for an exclusion of the ALR for the purpose of development. So my hope is that (with) this standing committee, that some of those topics can be discussed,” she said.

READ MORE: Owner of Tara Farms applies for ALR exclusion

Coun. Blair Whitmarsh asked which Lower Mainland communities have the best tree protection bylaws.

Sakurai said that the Richmond bylaw she works under is good in that it allows staff to use their own discretion for each application. Other cities, like Vancouver, have far more restrictive rules that are based on a set of criteria.

Mayor Jack Froese asked about the cost of administering the bylaw.

Sakurai said in Richmond they have 100 per cent cost recovery through application fees.

Coun. Bob Long asked why there should be a standing committee formed when there is already a new tree bylaw in Brookswood-Fernridge.

Sakurai said that in her opinion, that bylaw isn’t restrictive enough as, depending on lot size, residents can remove some trees with no permit. She believes that will lead property owners to potentially remove the best trees, because they don’t like them, and then apply for a permit to remove trees that are in poor condition afterward.

“We’re not protecting the most valuable trees that are suitable for retention for long term viability,” Sakurai said.

At the end of the meeting, council unanimously voted to refer Sakurai’s delegation to staff for a report. Coun. David Davis was absent.


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Hanae Sakurai speaks to council about the formation of a municipality-wide tree bylaw. Miranda Gathercole Langley Times

Tree protection has long been an issue raised by residents in Brookswood-Fernridge. Langley Times file photo

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