Stricter rules and more tree-planting is needed to reinvigorate Abbotsford’s urban forest, council will hear Monday. (Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)

Nothing stops Abbotsford homeowners from axing large, healthy trees. That may soon change.

New tree bylaw may restrict cutting of trees larger than 50 centimetres in diameter.

A new tree bylaw could put more limits on property owners cutting down large healthy trees, and may require developers to do more to either retain trees or replace those they cut down prior to building.

The city is developing a new urban forest strategy that will include an overhaul of Abbotsford’s tree bylaw. That bylaw has already been deemed too permissive. The city’s forest canopy declined by 17 per cent between 1994 and 2017.

The current bylaw allows property owners to remove trees, regardless of their health and age, if they obtain a permit. Depending on the size of the tree, they may have to be replaced by two or three trees. But the city can’t forbid the cutting of a tree if the property owner has promised to abide by the bylaw’s requirement.

Most people who responded to a survey declared that a bylaw should apply to all private land, and that the city should restrict the removal of “healthy mature trees not causing property damage.”

RELATED: Can a new bylaw in Abbotsford persuade people to plant more trees, rather than axe them?

On Monday, council will hear that a new bylaw could also apply to the Agricultural Land Reserve, when tree removals are proposed for non-farming uses. Across the city, such a bylaw could also “establish limits on the permitted reasons for removal of healthy trees” when they are greater than 50 centimetres in diameter, according to a staff report to council.

The report says a new bylaw could allow the owners of rural properties outside the city’s urban development area to cut down a couple trees a year, as long as they aren’t too large and the property isn’t barren.

Council will have the final say on how strict the adopted bylaw will be. But council will be told by staff Monday that unless the city does more to protect trees, Abbotsford will continue to see its forest canopy decline over the coming decades. The city must also increase the number of trees it plants on its own property, the report says.

“This approach is intended to ensure that City’s bylaw applies more evenly in all neighbourhoods, supports replacement of existing trees removed for development, and supports retention of large, healthy trees where practicable,” the report says.

The next step will be to actually draft an urban forest strategy. That strategy will likely include the setting of canopy cover targets, and craft a new tree policy and biodiversity strategy.

The city hopes to start implementing the new strategy next spring.

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