Urban Tree Canopy in the City of Ottawa
The City of Ottawa’s urban forest provides vital ecosystem services and is a key contributor to the quality of life in Ottawa. Trees help create a sense of place and facilitate outdoor recreation, relieve stress, and foster a sense of creativity. However, the City’s population is rapidly growing, and climate change threatens the health and longevity of trees through more frequent extreme weather events and invasive species.
To mitigate the effects of climate change and provide for a healthier and more resilient urban forest, the City has taken action to protect existing trees in the City while providing opportunities to plant more trees and grow the urban forest. Some of these strategies are outlined below.
Tree Protection By-law:
The City of Ottawa Tree Protection By-law 2020-340 came into effect on January 1, 2021, consolidating and replacing the previous Urban Tree Conservation By-law and the Municipal Trees and Natural Areas Protection By-law. The passing of the by-law actioned recommendations in the City’s Urban Forestry Management Plan (“Putting Down Roots for the Future”), which was approved by City Council in June 2017 and provides a 20-year strategic direction for growing Ottawa’s urban forest. The By-law requires that a Tree Removal Permit must be obtained to remove:
All City-owned trees throughout the urban and rural area
All trees 10 cm or more in diameter at breast height on private properties within the urban area that are subject to a Planning Act application for Site Plan, Plan of Subdivision, or Plan of Condominium
All trees 10 cm or more in diameter at breast height on private properties within the urban area that are over 1 hectare in size
All distinctive trees on private properties 1 hectare or less in size, where distinctive trees are defined as:
Trees measuring 30 cm or more in diameter at breast height within the inner urban area (urban lands inside the Greenbelt)
Trees measuring 50 cm or more in diameter at breast height within the suburban area (urban lands outside the Greenbelt)
Trees that are dead or hazardous and on private property do not require a permit to remove. Within the urban area, the most pertinent protection measure listed above is for distinctive trees, which are defined as trees with a 30 cm diameter-at-breast-height (DBH) within the Greenbelt and 50 cm DBH outside the Greenbelt in the urban area on lots less than or equal to one hectare in size. These trees would require a permit to remove as part of a construction project.
The intent of the protections is to ensure that new developments are designed around trees on the property. In general, staff will likely not approve a permit for tree removal that removes a tree in the front, rear, and side yards. Only a tree located within the site’s as-of-right building envelope is likely to obtain approval for a tree permit. Even if trees are not proposed to be removed as a part of construction, consideration needs to be given to the Tree Protection By-law to mitigate construction impacts on the Critical Root Zone (CRZ) of trees affecting the property. The City provides information on their website on how to plan new construction around trees.
Figure 2: Tree canopy along Mansfield Avenue. (Source: Google Maps)
Section 50 of the Tree Protection By-law provides relatively strict criteria for the issuance of a tree removal permit, broadly limited to occasions in which trees are dead, hazardous, for soil remediation purposes, relocation, utility provision, and where no reasonable alternative is provided. Schedule B of the By-law provides for compensation requirements for removed trees.
As part of the by-law, a Tree Information Report (TIR) or Tree Conservation Report (TCR) may also be required if trees are proposed to be removed and for all Committee of Adjustment applications in the urban area where a tree affects the property. The by-law includes a flowchart that helps delineate which type of report is required.
Trees Planting Programs:
While the Tree Protection By-law provides strong protections aimed at preserving the City’s urban forest canopy, City tree planting programs such as Trees in Trust work towards replacing the urban forest canopy. The Trees in Trust program allows residents to request the planting of a tree in front of their City-owned frontage. The program also allows residents to request the replacement of a tree if it was lost in the municipal right-of-way in front of or at the side of their home. After the May 21st storms in 2022, this program could become even more important as residents look to replace trees that were destroyed in the event. Homeowners are not charged for the tree, which will be at least 50 mm in diameter or 2-3 metres in height. In exchange, they must pledge to care for the tree for the first three years of its life.
Figure 3: Graphic depicting the benefit of trees. (Source: LEAF, 2015).
The Trees in Trust program works in concert with other Tree Planting programs including the Commemorative Tree Program, parks and streetscape planting requests, the Green Acres rural reforestation program, and the Schoolyard Tree Planting Grant program. More information on these programs can be found here.
Overall, Ottawa’s urban forestry strategy includes tools to protect against the removal of trees in urban areas while providing programs aimed at new tree plantings to add to the City’s forest canopy. These policies and programs work together to help achieve the City’s goal of creating a healthy, diverse, resilient, and growing urban forest that contribute to liveable neighbourhoods and the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors.