A slow economy and a change in local developments continues to mean far fewer trees are being cut down in the city.
Between 2001 and 2008, Surrey was issuing permits to cut down about 10,000 trees annually, according to figures obtained by The Leader.
But then the recession hit in 2009, and construction dropped by 40 per cent. The number of trees cut fell by more than 50 per cent, with 4,662 coming down that year.
Last year, the number of tree cuts fell even further, with only 3,446 being axed.
In the first half of this year, Surrey has so far issued permits for 2,547 significant trees to be cut for development.
The reduction in trees cut is partly due to the drop in building and the type of development occurring, known as infill, where construction occurs on already cleared lands.
Some areas where that development has occurred include Guildford Town Centre, where 37 trees were cut down and 442 were replanted.
And Green Timbers Urban Forest, a huge area cleared for a forestry site many years ago, will be home to the new RCMP E-Division headquarters. At that site, 70 trees had to be cut down and 210 were planted in their place.
Mayor Dianne Watts also attributes the drop in tree cuts to better planning, which includes building neighbourhoods around important green spaces rather than over them.
“We do an assessment of an area and take a look at what we need to be retaining,” Watts said. “I would say kudos to our planning department.”
However, long-time Surrey resident George Zaklan isn’t impressed with the “official” drop in tree cuts. He still sees large clearcuts all over the city.
He points specifically to a cut near 60 Avenue and 132 Street, where huge trees were cut down to put in housing “cheek to jowl.” He’s hearing from several other people who are complaining about similar cuts in their neighbourhoods.
Surrey has a long history of large tree cuts.
There was public backlash several years ago when massive clearcuts were occurring throughout the city.
In 2005, The Leader reported there was an average of 9,100 trees cut over the four years prior. Watts, then a councillor, referred to several areas of the city as a “moonscape” because of the large tree loss.
The tree protection bylaw was enacted in 2006.
However, the number of trees cut annually continued at the same rate, with 33,300 bylaw-protected trees coming down in three years (2006-08) – or 11,100 annually (22 per cent higher than in years prior to the bylaw).
In total, between 2001 and 2008, about 70,000 trees that met the criteria for bylaw protection were cut down.
The bylaw also has a provision for developments where the two-for-one replacement rule can’t be met. In those situations, a cash-in-lieu system requires a $300 fee be paid into a green fund for each tree that is not replaced.
In 2009, Surrey collected $644,150 in lieu of tree replacements and another $884,960 last year. So far this year, the city has collected $621,700 cash in lieu of tree replacements. That money goes into the green fund for tree replacement throughout other areas of the city.
The city also issued almost $50,000 in fines in 2009, and another $34,600 last year.