Mature trees on slopes overlooking the ocean are often cut or pruned by residents seeking better views. Photo by Sean Feagan / Campbell River.

City council considering new rules requiring permit for tree removal or pruning on steep slopes

Trees conflicting with demand for ocean views, resulting in canopy loss and stability concerns

Campbell River residents wanting to trim trees for better views may soon have to navigate new regulatory hurdles, should new rules intended to create better safety and environmental outcomes pass.

There is also a trend in the city of residents removing or modifying vegetation on slopes, particularly tall trees, to improve views towards the ocean. But this is having an impact on both safety, by decreasing soil stability thereby making landslides more likely, and the environment, by reducing canopy cover and wildlife habitat availability.

Unlike many of its neighbours on Vancouver Island, the city lacks a tree management bylaw requiring replacement of trees removed on private property. Also, many hillsides feature dense thickets of invasive plant species, namely Himalayan blackberry and English ivy, which can prevent growth of young trees. The result is the city is losing trees and they are not being replaced.

As a result, changes are being proposed to two city regulatory documents: the Official Community Plan hazardous conditions (steep slope) development permit guidelines and the environmental protection laws. On Aug. 23, city council passed first and second reading of a bylaw to make these changes and will consider a third reading following public consultation and an upcoming public hearing.

If adopted, these bylaws would require homeowners wanting to remove or limb a tree to have an assessment performed by a qualified environmental professional and apply for a permit. This assessment would consider several aspects of the slope area, including presence of trees, invasive species, among other variables. Then homeowners would be required to retain or restore 25 per cent native tree cover and limit invasive plant cover to less than 20 per cent, among other requirements.

Coun. Sean Smyth indicated navigating this regulatory process could be difficult for residents.

“When you look through the process of what somebody had to do in order to prune a tree on their own property — go through the permit and go to the city hall, I have concerns about this,” he said.

Smyth said safety and environmental protection are separate issues, and that he had difficulty seeing how pruning and topping a tree equates to soil retention and the root structure of a tree.

In researching the bylaw, the city conducted a review of 33 other communities, with most located along Vancouver Island’s coastline, and found 24 have some form of steep slope or hillside development permit requirements. Of those, eight included environmental protection parts.

Coun. Kermit Dahl said tree pruning allows homeowners who have planted trees to maintain or enhance their view.

“Otherwise, nobody would plant any tree,” he said.