The approach to tree cutting and forest preservation across Southwestern Ontario is as varied as the landscape.
While Lambton, Middlesex and Elgin Counties have strict bylaws, the communities of Windsor-Essex, similar to Chatham-Kent, have few, if no rules at all.
Chatham-Kent holds the dubious distinction of having the lowest forest cover in all of Ontario at somewhere between three to 3.5 per cent.
There’s plenty of tension surrounding the subject of tree cutting in the municipality with some in agriculture facing off against conservationists.
While Chatham-Kent landowners are free to cut down trees down as long as they are not impacting Species-at-Risk, it’s a different story to the north.
According to Tim Payne, Lambton County’s Woodlands Conservation Officer, landowners looking to clear trees, begin by making an application that includes a $1,000 non-refundable fee.
The land in question is then surveyed or ‘walked’ in an environmental assessment, Payne says, to determine the size of trees and to determine if endangered plants and animals are involved.
If an application is approved, Payne says, it is conditional there be no net loss of trees. Landowners are required to plant a similar sized plot of seedlings on their property or somewhere in the county, or they can pay a $3,000 an acre fee for the amount of forest cleared.
The money goes into a county fund to be used for future tree planting projects.
Most wooded plots that are taken down are in the neighbourhood of six to seven acres, Payne says, as larger projects are simply not allowed.
The final decision is made by a three-member Woodlands Hearing Board, which includes the current warden.
There are many factors in the decision-making process, Payne explains. Species diversity, the health of trees, drainage issues and whether a farmer needs to straighten out property to allow for big equipment can all factor in.
Lambton’s bylaw was enacted in 1979, made in response to widespread forest clearing as farmers clamoured to cash in on a spike in commodity prices.
“Woodlots came down like crazy,” Payne explains.
The officer says the bylaw does help to preserve forest cover — Lambton is currently sitting at around 13 per cent — as it encourages landowners to conserve and manage woodlots.
“I think it’s better than not having one,” Payne says.
Rules are strict in Middlesex County as well. According to Woodlands Conservation Officer Mark Brown landowners apply for a council exemption when they make application including a $100 fee.
Like Lambton, the forested area that’s to come down is analyzed. If it’s over one hectare, landowners must pay a registered forester to conduct the assessment.
If the clearing is approved, the landowner makes a security deposit of $3,200 an acre, until a similar sized plot is replanted on the property.
“We keep that fee until the new woodland is viable which can take three to five years,” Brown says.
Middlesex currently has about 52,000 hectares of forest, equal to 17 per cent of the county’s landmass.
Landowners who go ahead without approval may face serious consequences. Brown says they are prosecuted, fined and some may be court ordered to replant the land.
For the most part, the majority of people comply, Brown says, but adds there are usually “two or three a year who don’t.
“We enforce it," Brown says, "because if you don’t, you might as tear up the bylaw."
In Elgin County, which has around 18 per cent tree cover, similar rules apply.
Those wanting to clear trees make an application, which carries a $200 non-refundable fee.
The process is similar to Lambton and Middlesex, whereby the county conducts an environmental assessment with a decision rendered following the examination.
Jeff Lawrence, who serves as Elgin’s Woodlands Conservation Officer, says many landowners opt to replant a similar sized area of the trees they want to take down.
In Essex County, which currently has around five per cent forest cover, there are no bylaws with respect to tree cutting.
According to Rob Davies, forester for the Essex Region Conservative Authority, the Windsor-Essex region has about five per cent forest cover.
Davies says many Essex landowners choose to manage existing woodlots, working with the ERCA to return land to its natural state.
Much of the development in Essex that involves tree removal is related to commercial and residential growth rather than agricultural.
Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Herald