News / Toronto

Wanted: More protectors for Toronto's trees

The city's parks and forestry department is looking for a budget bump to deal with a big increase in complaints about tree safety.

Construction equipment and materials are heaped around mature trees inside an enclosed  area on St. George Street. City rules require contractors to create a protection zone around trees to prevent damage.

Torstar News Service file

Construction equipment and materials are heaped around mature trees inside an enclosed area on St. George Street. City rules require contractors to create a protection zone around trees to prevent damage.

It's an SOS for Toronto trees.

The city's parks and forestry department is looking for a budget bump to deal with a big increase in complaints about tree safety.

According to a city staff report, there was a 71 per cent increase in tree bylaw contravention complaints between 2011 and 2016. Staff are getting so overwhelmed they were only able to respond to half of last year's allegations.

The average response time by then was about 43 days, said Andrew Pickett, policy and project advisor for Toronto Urban Forestry.

According to Pickett, the increase in complaints is a "direct result" of a similar rise in applications to work in areas with protected trees. Complaints typically stem from construction sites.

Offenders have 90 days to pay a fine, and the city has the authority to add the fee to their property-tax bill if it's not paid in time.

As an emergency measure, city council approved the hiring of six temporary positions: five arborist inspectors and one supervisor. This $284,000 intervention from January to June 2017 resulted in 89 per cent of complaints being investigated, with an average response time of eight days, Pickett said.

As the volume of complaints is expected to continue, staff recommend extending the temporary positions for another eight months, until February. The extension is expected to cost the city about $394,000, which will be fully funded through the collection of permit and inspection fees, according to a staff report.

For next year's operating budget, Urban Forestry will propose the creation of seven permanent positions. At a projected cost of $696,000, the city would hire five urban forestry standards officers, one support assistant and one supervisor.

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