Drive down any street in Oakville, Ontario, at any time of the year and you will likely see the following scenario.
Near the street, you will see bright orange construction fencing. On the fencing, you will see a couple of signs with the city’s distinctive oak leaf logo and the signs explaining that the trees in this location are being preserved in accordance with a municipal ordinance.
You might look around for demolition trucks or excavators and, to your surprise, all you see is a general contractor’s van and a new entryway being constructed thirty feet from the orange fencing — what is going on?
The answer is that as a standard part of the permitting process for minor construction, if a construction job requires a permit of any kind, the trees in the right-of-way must also be protected. The issue of what construction jobs should require the permitting process is not the issue here.
Is Oakville going overboard with its permitting process? I suggest that the answer is no and I think the reason is relevant to all those who have trees on their property.
Imagine the same entry-way construction scenario taking place in the Abingtons. A car and a truck owned by the contractor’s labors are parked halfway into the homeowner’s and their neighbor’s lawns and the contractor’s van and small dump truck are parked on the lawn right near the home’s new entrance.
In the process, a young tree in the right-of-way loses 30 percent of its ability to feed itself when one of the laborers accidentally scrapes the trunk of the tree with his bumper. Also, in order to park closer to the project, every day for two weeks the contractor drives his van under a mature street tree, compacting the soil in 40 percent of the root zone of the tree — not only damaging structural and feeder roots, but also irrevocably compacting the soil. Over the course of the project, the soil in the lawn is also compacted by the foot traffic in the wood cutting area and a fifteen-year-old Japanese maple is starved of nitrogen by the sawdust dumped in its root zone.
Two years after the project, an arborist is called in to find out why the three trees are in decline and more chemicals are dumped on the lawn to reverse its failing appearance.
Installing a couple of fences before starting the project would have saved money and headache in this instance. A friend of mine bought a wooded building lot, but did not protect the trees from the excavator. After moving in, every year he had to remove at least one dead tree in his front yard. If he had followed best practices, a chain-link fence would have kept all traffic — foot and vehicular — out of the drip zone for the duration of the project and he would still have a wooded lot.
Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified Municipal Specialist, a Clarks Summit Tree Commissioner and an operator of a landscape maintenance business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.