By now Hudson residents will have received a disquieting note from the town in the mail announcing a “mandate to inventory remarkable public and private trees.” Between Sept. 18 and Sept. 30, people identifying themselves as Enracinart team members will be identifying and geolocating potentially significant trees on public and private property throughout town.
The mayor’s letter is vague about whether the tree people have the legal right to set foot on private property. “It is possible that a specimen located on your property could be recognized as a remarkable tree. I, and council, would therefore appreciate your permission to allow Ms. Hardy and her team to inspect, measure and photograph the tree(s).”
Background: Resolution 3.9, adopted at the Aug. 1 council meeting, approved the July 14 hiring of phytoculturalist Suzanne Hardy (for $7,200 ex taxes) “to assist the town in establishing an inventory of remarkable trees on its territory.” The goal: to develop and implement a new tree policy specific to Hudson.
Resolution 3.9 doesn’t provide details, but it’s my understanding that this tree inventory is part of the runup to the proposed overhaul of Hudson’s Planning Program, the collection of bylaws that regulate urban planning.
My first reaction was that there’s no harm in seeing what remarkable trees are out there. One of Hudson’s star attractions is the stately and spectacular American chestnut at the rear of 539/541 Main. I’ve come across awesome 120-foot hemlocks in several of Hudson’s deep ravines as well as monster-muscled blue hornbeams in the lower Viviry wetland.
But these are on public land. What impact would this tree census have on private property?
The interim control bylaw adopted early this year includes a measure to geolocate remarkable trees as part of a strategy to map a protected canopy corridor with GPS coordinates. These corridors and adjacent buffer zones would become constraints on development in a revised master plan.
More simply, the revisions would appear to further limit the right to cut trees on private property.
I think a majority of residents would agree on the need to protect the forest canopy, which is why we adopted the revised tree bylaw in 2021. The problem lies in the process.
The folks doing this remarkable-tree inventory aren’t certified tree experts. Hardy’s bio says she’s a ‘phytotechnicienne’ and botanist. Their body of work includes a 2005 Hydro-Quebec subcontract to identify 1,000 remarkable trees (no word on what happened to unremarkable trees). In 2016, Enracinart published an inventory of remarkable trees for Laval’s regional environment council and in 2012 a similar census for a Quebec City heritage site. Their biggest job: an inventory of Mount Royal’s most remarkable trees, which identified a number of unique specimens.
Therein lies the crux of the problem. From what I know, only designated town inspectors can set foot on private property without the owner’s permission, and only in the course of enforcing municipal bylaws. Anyone else requires the owner’s permission, preferably written. Anything else is called trespassing.
Moreover, the information gathered likely will be shared with the Conservation Working Group, a body of unelected citizens tasked with creating a conservation corridor. This would be a clear violation of Quebec’s Privacy Act.
As we saw with the previous council’s disastrous effort to impose a 30-metre wetland buffer throughout the town, this isn’t the sort of thing a council can do without consultation with those whose property values will be impacted.
A friend owns a woodlot which includes several enormous trees that presented a real threat to his family’s security. As currently written, the tree bylaw allowed them to be felled because they represent a public security hazard. As we were chainsawing and splitting the tonnes of lumber, he asked me whether letting the tree people onto his land means he can get the town to pony up to take down a remarkable tree that threatens to kill people and destroy his house.
I said I’d ask.