A Slow Clap for a New Outdated, Greenwashed Tree Protection Bylaw

If we have a Sustainability Charter or a concern about climate change or healthy city building, you wouldn’t know it in the Township of Langley. On Monday, June 24, 2019, the Township of Langley passed its first ever Tree Protection Bylaw… that does pretty much nothing.

“We’ve created a tree protection bylaw that doesn’t really protect trees.” – Councillor Eric Woodward

The ToL’s new bylaw is based on the City of Richmond’s bylaw mainly because it had to be “developer friendly”. Meaning, the trees that should really be protected won’t be. This bylaw has nothing to do with development zones such as anywhere in Willoughby or the new development zones in Brookswood. It also doesn’t affect the 75% of the Township of Langley that is in the Agricultural Land Reserve. Essentially, the Township of Langley is saying that where people live, trees shouldn’t.

Further to this, the already weak, outdated 13-year-old Richmond tree bylaw was further neutered by Councillor Blair Whitmarsh’s amendments to:

  • increase the size threshold from Richmond’s 20cm to 30cm (at dbh, 1.4meters)
  • allow for one tree to be cut down on any person’s lot every 2 years without reason and without paying any fees

Plus, Councillor Eric Woodward had also added in a species exclusion list (so birch and cottonwood wouldn’t be protected) prior to public hearing.

However, after listening to public input, Councillor Woodward attempted to reverse Councillor Whitmarsh’s motion to have the bylaw match Richmond’s 20cm threshold, plus he also asked to remove his own species exclusion list amendment (which it was).

Photo 2019-06-24, 8 27 34 PM
Woodward looks for support on 20cm threshold
Photo 2019-06-24, 8 35 59 PM
First gets it…

After some discussion, the vote to have the threshold of a significant tree reduced to 20cm to match the majority of communities PASSED with Councillors Long, Kunst and Whitmarsh opposed (Mayor Froese absent). However, shortly after, Councillor Kim Richter asked to reconsider her vote. After learning that our current subdivision bylaw is currently set at 30cm, a re-vote was cast with only Councillor Eric Woodward supporting the 20cm threshold (he had hoped to change the subdivision bylaw to match the tree protection bylaw, not the other way around).

Photo 2019-06-24, 8 36 58 PM
Richter changes her mind…
Photo 2019-06-24, 8 43 00 PM
…along with others, keeps tree protection at 30cm+

The reason that persuaded everyone to make a useless tree bylaw even more regressive? Councillors Whitmarsh, Kunst and Long seem okay with matching, who? Surrey? Councillors Richter, Ferguson, Arnason and Davis are apparently want it to match our own subdivision bylaw that has been doing a wonderful job of allowing for the complete clear-cutting of trees in development zones with fantasy arborist reports (which I wonder if they actually exist)?

Vancouver’s updated 2014 (now 5 years old) bylaw is 20cm.

Richmond’s 13 year old bylaw is 20cm.

Delta’s 4 year old bylaw is 20cm.

Maple Ridge’s 2017 updated bylaw is 20cm.

Abbotsford’s 9 year old tree bylaw is 20cm.

It’s 2019 and we just passed a bylaw that is an embarrassment compared to any of these. So “thanks” to Councillors Kunst, Whitmarsh, Richter, Ferguson, Arnason and Davis who supported making one of the weakest tree protection bylaws in the region even weaker.

The Township of Langley is playing catch up with a tree protection bylaw, yet it’s so far behind everyone else that it has actually no use other than to say, “look, we have a tree protection bylaw”. But it doesn’t actually protect any trees.

Photo 2019-06-25, 2 17 53 PM
Still allowed, once every two years on every property.

The tree protection bylaw does not protect historically valuable trees. It allows for anyone to cut down any tree that want for any reason. It does not create a plan or protect any trees in the urban environment. The only trees it actually protects are from the few people who want to cut down several trees for their view, or whatever.

The reason the bylaw passed unanimously is because it doesn’t change any practice in the Township of Langley. This tree bylaw is not an example of not letting the perfect getting in the way of the good. It is merely another meaningless document filed under “greenwashing”.

I’m not much of a tree hugger. I’m barely an environmentalist. However, there are so many benefits to trees in the urban environment and not once was the benefit of trees discussed among Council. As a result, we have this: a bylaw that essentially endorses the current practice of developers and residents in the Township that has destroyed tens of thousands of trees over the past decade.

Top 22 Benefits of Trees (TreePeople)

Benefits of Trees (NC State University)

What I really don’t understand is that for the Councillors who are normally strong tree advocates, there was absolutely nothing to gain by weakening this bylaw. There was no compromise. At least if they stood up and promoted a stronger bylaw, they would have something to stand on. If there was some sort of compromise that actually protected some trees, than maybe it is worth letting some things go.

So let’s give a slow, extremely sarcastic clap to the Township of Langley for its “leadership” on making a greener, more sustainable and livable community. On to the next strip mall please…


  1. I’m happy to see Councillor Woodward removed his species exemption list. All tree species are important for providing habitat, providing shade, sequestering carbon, filtering water back into our aquifers, and improving soil health. I am not happy to see that Councillors who I expect to be more environmentally friendly wouldn’t vote for the 20cm standard for significant trees. If they were concerned about discrepancies, I agree with Councillor Woodward that the thing to do would be correct the subdivision bylaw, not weaken the tree protection bylaw.


  2. Canadians really need to wake up to the fact that the main thing we have going for ourselves is the beautiful natural scenery. It’s beginning to feel like a third world country around here. It’s disgusting and revolting and you can smell the GREED everywhere.


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