He says. She says.
Although municipalities are pointing to the tree and natural vegetation policies contained in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) official plan as protection of municipal tree cover, the counties are not responsible for protection of tree canopy in municipalities.
Clarence-Rockland, Alfred-Plantagenet, Champlain Township, East Hawkesbury and The Nation Municipality each adopted by-laws earlier this year in keeping with changes to the Ontario Municipal Act which said that municipalities had to establish policies by March 2019 with respect to the manner in which they will protect and enhance the tree canopy and natural vegetation in municipalities.
The municipalities adopted almost identical by-laws, which point to the policies set out in the United Counties of Prescott-Russell official plan (Section 5.5.6). The municipal by-laws state that the tree canopy and vegetation in that municipality are “protected” by what is contained in the counties’ Official Plan (OP).
Municipalities are pointing to the existing policy in the counties plan, saying it is sufficient to meet the requirement of Section 270(1) of the Ontario Municipal Act.
UCPR Planning and Forestry Director Louis Prévost says that the counties are not responsible for the protection of tree canopy.
While the province may have directed municipalities to create a policy, Prévost does point out that, “. . . it is silent on what exactly the policy should contain and what kind of level of protection is required.”
The section of the counties’ official plan (OP) that municipalities are pointing to as their policy describes significant woodlands and vegetation cover and lists their values (for example, they prevent soil erosion and stabilize slopes), but the section also says that property owners “have the right to harvest forest resources on their lands.” The counties’ OP says it encourages forestry management in accordance with the Eastern Ontario Model Forest Code of Forestry Practice.
A clause says only that (counties) council “may adopt appropriate by-laws to prohibit or regulate the placing, dumping, removal or regrading of topsoil or fill, and the destruction or injuring of trees.” To date, no such legislation has been adopted by the counties.
The counties OP also outlines general policies for vegetative tree cover and does spell out the retention of mature tree cover as it pertains to shorelines and says it will encourage the retention of natural vegetation along public roads. Applications for subdivisions, OP and zoning by-law amendments can be supported by a Tree Preservation Plan. Such a plan could, for example, “describe the area and nature of tree loss and compensation measures proposed. Such compensation measures may include off-site plantings . . .”
In a report to township councillors, Champlain planner Marc Rivet pointed out that the municipality would be in the process of a five-year review of its own official plan and a policy in accordance with the province’s requirements would be included in the municipal OP.
As far back as 2015, the United Counties had discussed forest protection at a Committee of the Whole meeting. Outlining that a discussion took place, including mention of a 350-acre clear-cut in Alfred-Plantagenet and that land erosion, ditches and problems caused to culverts related to clear-cutting were raised, council said it was of the opinion that it is important to regulate, control and adopt sustainable woodland management.
The committee recommended that the matter be brought forward at a future committee meeting to present various alternatives “to implement adequate regulations to protect our forest cover and our urban forests.” The issue has not resurfaced at counties council to date.
The Ontario Municipal Act amendment which tells municipalities to create policies to protect tree canopy and natural vegetation was put in place last year. In recent weeks, the provincial government cut the “50 Million Trees” program on short notice.