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Woman loses battle to cut trees

The tree is non-native cedar, poorly sited and too big. Its branches constantly run afoul of power lines and its sticky drips mess up neighborhood cars and kill grass.

The tree is non-native cedar, poorly sited and too big. Its branches constantly run afoul of power lines and its sticky drips mess up neighborhood cars and kill grass.

But when Esquimalt resident Linda Barnes decided to cut it down, she was told that under the municipal tree protection bylaw, she would need a permit, which was subsequently denied. Barnes also wanted to remove a native cedar from the backyard and was also turned down. "They are the wrong trees in the wrong spots," she told Esquimalt municipal councillors last week in appealing the decision.

Esquimalt's Tree Protection Bylaw is 13 pages of regulations carrying penalties up to $1,000. Most municipalities in the region have such bylaws, with varying degrees of regulations, complexities and penalties.

Unlawfully cutting down a tree can earn you a fine as little as $250 for a first offence in Victoria. Do it in the Highlands or Oak Bay and you're looking at a penalty of up to $10,000.

Only in Langford, Colwood and Sooke can homeowners take down trees for the simple reason they don't like them -- although all three municipalities encourage preservation of trees during the approval process for new developments.

Saanich, which installed one of the first tree-protection bylaws in the region, also identifies significant trees that it designates with small brass plaques. Owners can apply for municipal assistance to offset their care.

An English oak behind the Salvation Army Church near the Pat Bay Highway and McKenzie Avenue, for example, was planted about 150 years ago from an acorn taken from the grounds of Windsor Castle. That history has earned it a heritage designation.

Jacqueline Wrinch, who was instrumental in Saanich enacting its bylaw and the first to chair the municipality's significant tree committee, says the bylaw's single biggest success is the shift in public awareness. Trees are now widely recognized as having value, she said. Gone, she said, are the days when developers would cut down all the trees on a property, build a house and then replant the same species. "I used to see some ridiculous things."

But David McLean, former city councillor of Victoria, said a municipality could be liable if it protected an old tree that later toppled and caused damage.

In Langford, city councillors briefly considered enacting a tree-protection bylaw, but gave up. Longtime councillor Denise Blackwell said many residents cut down trees they didn't want before the rumoured bylaw took hold. "So we thought we were better off not having [a tree bylaw]," said Blackwell.

Back in Esquimalt, councillors have suggested Barnes meet with parks officials to see if a compromise can be worked out. That could, for example, involve planting trees to replace the two she wants gone. "Is there no consideration for property owners that are held hostage by the poor planning of previous owners?" she wrote to council.

rwatts@tc.canwest.com

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