City proposes tree preservation bylaw

By Ginny Colling

Trees offer a number of benefits to nature, including providing food and habitat for many species – not to mention the psychological benefits to us of a walk amongst the trees. Photo: Ian McKechnie.

In a heat wave, we can keep cool in air-conditioned spaces. If that’s not possible, we can head for our natural air conditioners, the trees.

Hard pavement in areas without trees and vegetation can be 11-25 C warmer than those with vegetation. And air alone can be several degrees cooler under trees, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A few strategically placed trees can even reduce home air conditioning costs.

Global heating is making trees more and more important. Climate change trackers tell us 2023 is almost certain to be the hottest year on record, and there’s a chance 2024 could be even hotter.

A heating planet also means more moisture sucked from the land, resulting in droughts in some areas, and deluges in others. Trees help there too, as they slowly release water into the soil and our aquifers, instead of the downpour inundating our storm sewers and washing sediment and pollutants into our waterways.

City of the Kawartha Lakes is recognizing these and other benefits of trees in its proposed Tree Preservation Bylaw.

“The bylaw recognizes that trees benefit everyone. It tries to strike a balance between the private homeowner and the greater (community),” said city solicitor Robyn Carlson.

The draft bylaw would require purchase of a permit to remove mature trees on private property in some circumstances. It applies to any property larger than .5 hectares (1.2 acres), or any smaller property within 30 metres of waterfront. A mature tree is considered one that is approximately 40 cm or 16 inches in circumference, measured 1.4 metres (4.5 feet) above the ground.

No permit would be required for cutting trees used as fuel for home heating, those diagnosed as hazardous because of storm, insect or disease damage, or for invasive non-native trees like buckthorn. There are also exemptions for operations like agriculture, aggregate, forestry, tree nursery or golf course and for low-income households.

Permit costs vary with property size. Money collected will help fund projects to preserve and enhance tree and hedgerow cover in the city.

The proposed bylaw would encourage developers of new subdivisions to look at limiting their impact on natural features like trees and wetlands, said Carlson.

“The city has to pay for treatment of storm water runoff. If you have tree cover, you’re going to have lower AC costs, less storm water runoff.”

“We just accept storm water runoff right now. And it’s costly. But this would help keep the storm water within the subdivision and let nature take care of it.” That would help keep taxes down because there would be less need to upgrade water and sewer plants to accommodate growth, she said.

A tree bylaw appears as a recommendation in local lake management plans. Those plans suggest tree cover targets. “We’re not there, in terms of meeting those targets. This bylaw would at least prevent the situation from getting worse,” Carlson said.

For example, the Lake Scugog Management Plan sets a goal of 75 per cent tree coverage, but existing cover is only about 57 per cent. The targets are based on the tree coverage necessary to reduce phosphorous loading and help cool the lakes.

“Ideally we should be increasing the cover, but right now we’re just trying to stop the cutting.”

Protecting trees is more effective than planting new ones, certainly in the short term. According to the Nature Conservancy, larger, older trees do much more to fight climate change than new ones because they store more carbon.

They also clean our air by removing particulate matter, the stuff most dangerous to our lungs. Much of it comes from burning fossil fuels. Those who benefit most are within 30 metres of a tree.

And they filter our water, making water treatment easier and cheaper.

Then there are the many benefits to nature, including providing food and habitat for many species. And the psychological benefits to us of a walk amongst the trees.

Kawartha Lakes is one of the last municipalities in southern Ontario to adopt a tree preservation bylaw.

The city is looking for your input on its proposed bylaw. To weigh in, fill out the survey on Jump In, Kawartha Lakes by Dec. 22, or email .


  1. Karla Forgaard-Pullen says:

    Perhaps while discussing preservation of the canopy, the City could look at the extremely destructive equipment they are using to clear ‘brush’ from the ditches. Many trees line our roadways, and the brush cutter indiscriminatingly chews off branches, leaving unsightly and very potentially dying trees. I am not objecting to maintaining ditches. I am horrified at the mangled trees. From a tourism point of view it is very off putting. However the larger risk is that these shredded branches are injuries that invite viruses, boring insects and unecessary weather damage. A simple slice to remove these branches as Hydro does would be beneficial in every case.

    • John Bick says:

      I agree completely with the above comment . At one time crews brushed out road ditches manually and responsibly without leaving the unpleasant mess that the current practice of using a mangling machine leaves behind. There must be a better way to do the job . Our back roads are an attraction not only for residents but for tourists who enjoy experiencing unspoiled natural surroundings. It takes years, if ever, for the damaged mature trees to recover and it is those larger trees that we continue to need.

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