Green North and South
The older parts of Aylmer are well known for their beautiful trees. Pines, oaks, spruces, firs and maples are common, but ashes, beeches, and poplars also line our streets and decorate our backyards. In addition to their aesthetic values, trees help to keep us cool during the hot months of summer, reduce hot spots, and attract a wide range of birds and other animals to our neighbourhoods, making us all better off.
Crossing Allumetières Boulevard we see a very different story. Why are there fewer mature trees in parts of northern Aylmer and the Plateau? The obvious answer is that these neighbourhoods are newer, and haven’t had time to develop a proper landscape. Yet many trees in central and southern Aylmer are far older than the houses around them. In previous decades builders were less likely to clearcut when developing residential areas. Granted, yards were often bigger in those developments than in modern initiatives. Yet in newer neighbourhoods even parks lack older trees.
Given Gatineau’s commitment to implementing a green approach to urban development, it’s time to rethink the approach of clearcutting before developing to maximize density and reduce costs. With the recent increases in property value, the argument of tight profit margins preventing construction companies from working around mature trees is less compelling. Moreover, houses in newer neighbourhoods that have mature trees could sell for a premium, helping developers to recover the extra costs associated with working around at least the oldest trees.
However, the clearcutting that we see isn’t always a part of the city’s plans. At times, companies clear cut trees on public land without requesting permits, purchasing the land shortly thereafter to develop it at a substantially reduced cost. This was recently the case with Destination Vanier, where the contractor went unpunished for breaking the rules and clearcutting an adjacent publicly owned lot which the company was looking to purchase. On its own suggestion, the contractor offered to plant and care for 100 trees to compensate.
The issue was brought up at a recent council meeting, with the mayor criticizing the current system. It’s good news that the council is showing concern and looking to improve the way that the city handles these situations. Yet the current administration has been in place for almost 8 years. Creating legislation for such important environmental issues shouldn’t simply slip through the cracks for almost a decade. Anyone connected to illegal clearcutting of trees on public property should be disqualified from being able to purchase the land afterwards.
The council plans to make illegal clearcutting a more serious offence, raising fines for those who cut trees without proper authorization. However, until the price of fines for such clearcutting is substantially higher than the profits from developing the land, little is likely to change. At the same time, lightening the administrative burden for obtaining permits will make life easier for developers - a win-win.
Development plans should retain the most mature trees instead of simply replanting new ones after the work is done. Our neighbourhoods will be nicer places to live as a result.