Protecting Metchosin’s tree canopy won’t require residents to take out permits every time they cut some firewood, Mayor John Ranns said.
After an incident in which numerous trees were removed, Metchosin council had asked its environmental advisory committee to review its tree management bylaw with an eye to giving it more teeth.
But when the committee reported back, among its recommended changes were suggestions that the municipality consider issuing permits for such things as cutting trees for firewood for personal use, or cutting trees to manage fire risk.
Staff also suggested limits, dependent on property size, on the numbers of trees that could be cut annually.
Many of the recommendations are well intentioned, Ranns said, but simply aren’t in concert with the realities of rural life.
“The ability to do limited management of your own forests is essential,” he said.
“There’s a difference between the technical and the political. We have to weigh in — not just how do you protect the trees — but … how do you protect the community.
“When you have people owning large parcels of land, the expectation is they are free to manage them in a way that isn’t going to impact the community or their neighbours but still gives them the freedom to utilize their land.”
A system that involves issuing lots of permits flies in the face of Metchosin’s philosophy of less is more when it comes to government, Ranns said.
“You can still clear for agricultural purposes, and you can clear your building sites, and you can clear any kinds of hazard trees out of the way and stuff like that. And you can manage your own forests without having to get permits on a limited basis,” he said.
“The last thing we want as a municipality is to have to issue a permit for every one of those things. Every time you do that, it means extra staff. It means costs.”
Committee chairman Andy MacKinnon said, that while disappointed not all the recommendations were accepted, he understood council’s position.
“We make recommendations from an environmental point of view and they have to take those into account with the wishes of the community and a whole host of other factors,” he said.
The committee’s report said some residents view existing fines for illegally cutting trees as simply the cost of doing business.
Doubling the penalties to $1,000 for a first offence and $2,000 for the second, and increasing for subsequent offences, would make people take the issue more seriously.
The committee also noted there is no penalty for damaging a protected tree, including by spiking or poisoning. It suggested fines of $2,000 for a first offence and $3,000 for a second, potentially increasing thereafter.
Some of the recommended bylaw changes, including suggestions for a list of significant and protected trees, were welcome, Ranns said.
“One of the things that was probably a good recommendation that we’re looking at is coming up with a forest management plan,” he said.
“That could be quite effective for some of our larger properties where, if they come up with a good plan, they can actually manage the forest and do some selective cutting.”
Ranns said the recommendations, including increases in fines, would be reviewed by municipal staff.
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