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When a tree falls in Oak Bay …

Permit needed, even for fallen trees

  When Virginia Tucker stepped out of her Crestview Road home on Feb. 23 to take a photo of a snow-laden Garry oak in her front yard, she had no idea it would be the last time she’d see the tree upright.

Ten minutes later a neighbour called to say the tree had uprooted itself, falling across the yard.

“It was very sad to see our beautiful tree gone – there was nothing we could do. It had just had its time,” she said.

Municipal arborist Chris Paul says the 125-year-old oak had considerable rot, but Tucker still needed a permit to have the tree bucked up and removed from the lawn.

All trees on the protected species list, including those that fall on their own, need permits to be removed in Oak Bay. Permits are free if the tree is considered a hazard, but cost $30 otherwise.

Until recently Oak Bay protected four trees: Garry oak, Arbutus, Pacific (Western) yew and Pacific (western flowering) dogwood.

This month, a fifth tree, the native Douglas hawthorn, will also be protected.

If a homeowner wants to remove one of these species, for example because it might be damaged during construction of a new home or renovation, the bylaw states that two of the same species must be planted to replace it within six months.

That’s been a challenging policy to enforce in Oak Bay, Paul says.

“So many large houses are being built that it’s taking longer than six months to get to the landscaping stage,” he says.

Bond fees were recently increased from $500 to $1,000 to encourage homeowners to follow through on planting replacement trees. In past, some homeowners found it less expensive to just forfeit bonds.

Garry oaks cost $250 each to to replace.

“Now that (the bond) is $1,000 it’s cheaper for them to plant trees and keep them alive,” Paul says.

After three years arborists check on the new trees and if all is OK, bonds are refunded to homeowners.

Tucker intends to plant another Garry oak in her front yard. “They’re slow growing, so it will be for somebody else (future generations) to enjoy.”