New West considers cost of tree bylaw

New Westminster is keen to grow its urban canopy – but it will come with a cost.

The city’s 2016 to 2020 draft financial plan includes a request from the parks, culture and recreation department for a full-time arbourist to oversee the new urban tree management program. The position would cost $104,770, but that would be offset by about $70,000 in revenues estimated to be generated through application and permit fees.

Dean Gibson, the city’s director of parks, culture and recreation, said it’s a very technical position so existing staff don’t have the ability to offer the services that could be provided by an arbourist. The arbourist would administer the tree protection bylaw and support the city’s planned stewardship and education initiatives related to trees.

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he was surprised at the budget request, as he felt the city had the capacity within the existing organization to move forward with the program. If someone wants to take a tree down, he suggested it should be their responsibility to hire an arbourist to explain the issues with the tree.

In some cases, residents will be required to hire an arbourist, Gibson said, but the city still needs someone skilled and qualified on staff to vet reports submitted to the city.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said the city needs to ensure it’s providing public education about the tree protection bylaw and the city’s goals around expanding the urban canopy.

“We said we have a goal to plant 10,000 trees,” he noted. “That is going to take some work. Someone needs to do that work.”

Coun. Lorrie Williams said the importance of urban forests can’t be underestimated.

“We have to put our money where our mouth is,” she said. “We have asked for this, we have got it. We have a good model. I am going to support it.”

Earlier this month, city council approved an urban forest management strategy that strives to increase the tree canopy from the current 18 per cent to 27 per cent. The tree canopy, which refers to the area of a city that’s covered when viewed by the air, has declined by 15 per cent since 2004.

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