Leaf private property alone


One Ottawa lawyer and at least three city councilors have a strange idea.

If you can’t save the trees by stopping giant development corporations from wiping out entire forests, you may as well put a stop to the homeowner chopping down his old oak tree to make way for the pool his kids have always wanted. But, place the onus on the neighbour to do something about it. And make this new rule a bylaw so it costs money to implement every time somebody’s angry that the guy next door wants to change his property and needs to get rid of a tree to do it.

A bylaw to stop individuals from cutting down trees on private property hasn’t yet been formally proposed, but it has enough high-profile supporters to make its proposal realistic.

Ottawa lawyer Eric Wildhaber,and councillors Elisabeth Arnold, Alex Cullen and Clive Doucet must be on a “let’s-make-silly-and-ambiguous-bylaws” campaign to be seriously considering this.

Is it realistic to tell homeowners that the tree has to stay, and those brand new deck plans may as well be buried?

Cullen says public consultations will decide the criteria for deciding which trees deserve protection and which don’t. There could be any number of possibilities. Perhaps age? Maybe the number of neighborhood complaints related to its removal? Or the reason involved — for aesthetics or health and safety. It could be any arbitrary criteria the city settled upon.

Private property owners are tied up with enough permits and restrictions already. One of the reasons people buy rather than rent is so they can develop a property and build their own vision out of the one the previous homeowner left behind. A bylaw to protect trees on a case-by-case basis could even alter which homes are bought if people are concerned that a tree would halt a renovation to accommodate a blooming family.

Wildhaber’s argument is based on a personal complaint against his neighbor for cutting down a tree that had limbs stretching onto Wildhaber’s backyard. He took his anger to a city forestry committee meeting and got councillors to support the idea of a bylaw to protect trees on private property. If he manages to get the bylaw formally proposed, he has taken it too far.

There are already enough bylaws that are too difficult to enforce. Just take a walk through the Arboretum and witness nearly every dog-walker flagrantly violate the signs posted everywhere to keep your dog on a leash. Yet keeping a dog on a leash is a justified bylaw based on public safety.

The city will be hard pressed to similarly justify a bylaw to protect a tree on private property when developers and the lumber industry are destroying whole forests. This is not an anti-tree argument; it’s a pro-logic one. The city is just wrong in targeting individuals with axes over corporations with bulldozers.

—Laura Aiken