The City of Surrey has received international recognition as a ‘tree city’ but an environmental group calls it an ‘empty accolade.’ (Tracy Holmes photo)

The City of Surrey has received international recognition as a ‘tree city’ but an environmental group calls it an ‘empty accolade.’ (Tracy Holmes photo)

Environment organization calls Surrey’s ‘tree city’ designation ‘empty accolade’

Committee chair Allison Patton says international recognition is encouraging and sets a trend

The Ocean Park Beautification Committee is taking issue with the City of Surrey’s recognition as an international “tree city,” calling it an “empty accolade.”

However, Surrey Coun. Allison Patton, who chairs the city’s Agricultural, Environment and Investment Committee, said the recent designation by Tree Cities of the World is encouraging and sets a trend.

This is the second consecutive year that Surrey has been named a “tree city of the world.” It received the designation along with 15 other Canadian cities, including Kelowna and Victoria.

“I think it’s sort of lipstick on a pig,” Ocean Park Beautification Committee member Bob Winston told Peace Arch News, following publication of a news release from the City of Surrey, commending itself for leading the way in green programs and initiatives.

“It’s just kind of false advertising that we’re a great tree city. In fact, our canopy loss has been pretty outstanding even though we have a bylaw that has been slightly improved. It probably won’t change any behaviour.”

On criticism regarding tree loss in Surrey, Patton said the city does take the issue of mature trees “very seriously.”

RELATED: Surrey tree protection bylaw tougher but environmentalist calls for more

“In our upcoming work plan, we’re going to take a look at our strategy with mature trees and see how we can make it even better,” Patton said.

Earlier this year, city council tweaked penalties under the city’s Tree Protection Bylaw, doubling fines to $20,000 from $10,000 per offence related to chopping down “significant” trees. Following the move, some Surrey environmentalists argued that the adjustment wasn’t enough.

“I think the bylaws could have made an effort to encourage developers, or reward developers, for mature tree protection in stands. Leaving one big tree… not really going to help,” Winston said.

Patton said if the city could move from a fining system to a more “positive system,” she would be in favour.

“I work within the confines, the requirements of the city. And sometimes we have to start somewhere to move somewhere else.”

In order to be recognized as a tree city, a municipality must meet five standards, including that the city write a statement delegating responsibility for the care of trees within municipal boundaries; the city has in place a law or policy that governs management of trees; that the city has an updated inventory of local trees; that the city has a dedicated annual budget for routine implementation of a tree management plan; and that the city holds an annual celebration of trees to raise awareness.

Winston said the bar for receiving a tree city designation is set too low.

“They have certain criteria that the city has to meet to obtain this tree-friendly city designation. There’s not much there,” Winston said.

In the city’s press release, Mayor Doug McCallum noted that council approved doubling the number of public electric-vehicle fast charging stations; that more buildings in the city centre are being heated by renewable natural gas that is created at the city’s Biofuel Facility; and that the city’s tree sale program is no longer an annual event.

“Residents now have the opportunity to buy a $20 tree four times a year and I’m proud to say our first event of the year was a resounding success as we sold out of all 931 trees available. The actions we take today, will make a difference tomorrow and beyond,” McCallum stated.

Winston said the city’s replacement efforts are “basically bull—.”

“If you put a very small tree down, it’s going to have no asset to the city or the people for 30 years,” Winston said.

“The city could take a totally different tack on tree protection and environmental protection in the city, and it’s going in the opposite direction,” Winston said, noting that the city dissolved its Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee.

Last year, in its place, it established the Agricultural, Environment and Investment Committee chaired by Patton.

Patton said the new committee assumed most of the work that the sustainability advisory committee handled.

“We’re taking a new approach,” she said. “We’re looking at things more globally. Our city is a unique city where it has the business and residential piece (making up) one third, it has parks and green space, one third, and the agricultural, one third. We’re taking a look at how all of those interrelate. That’s why we have this committee,” Patton said.

Asked if the different approach is a better approach, Patton said she considers it an approach for the times.

“I like to think of it as a more progressive approach.”

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