The wood from the trees

JONATHAN EPPS is a qualified and accredited professional arboriculturists and a founding and sole WA member of the Institute of Australian Consulting Arboriculturists since 2003.  He is also a member the International Society of Arboriculture (USA) and Arboriculture Australia (ISA Chapter in Australia). He is the only person in Australia to have passed the stringent professional tree inspectors exam in the UK, run by the Arboricultural Association UK.

Trees are good.

They are beneficial to us, our lives are greatly enhanced by them.

Some years ago a politician instigated the removal of a large eucalypt outside parliament house in Perth because it had shed one branch and he thought it too risky to stay. The tree appeared to be healthy and structurally sound and it could have been pruned instead of removed.

Recently UWA professor Evan Jones has chaired and helped draft the green paper Modernising WA’s Planning System.

Be concerned, as third party right-of-replies are barely recognised here in WA, whereas in Victoria and NSW the public has more influence. Absentee developers and other professionals – where aboriculturists are usually not included – tend to have more weight in the final decision making.

In the green paper, I found no reference to  protection of mature urban trees.

However, mention is made of protection for bushland and the ‘environment’.

Some urban trees are recorded on heritage sites in order to protect them. Some councils even list all mature trees on such sites regardless of their health and condition.

Regulations rarely differentiate between healthy and structurally sound trees on unlisted sites compared with poor trees on listed sites.

Developers are notorious for removing trees – Lathlain Oval recently lost over 60 so a new oval could be built.

Some architects don’t know or appear to be unconcerned about Australian standard AS4970 – Protection of Trees on Development Sites.

A simple calculation determines the ideal minimum distance between construction and the tree stem so its structural integrity and health is not severely affected. A very rough, simple guide – try to keep at least three metres from a mature tree on at least one side. You can always ask an arboriculturist.

Tree canopy loss

Trees also have a dollar value – yes they are worth money. Think you’re not interested that big old gum in your backyard –you know the ‘widow maker’?

If it’s in reasonable nick, a good shape and hasn’t dropped a limb for a while it is probably increasing the property value, especially if you can see it from the street.

Tree valuation methods such as ‘Helliwell’ and ‘Thyer’ can be used to assess its worth using criteria like size, relevance in the landscape and health.

Local authorities may use one or other of these methods. If, for example a resident removed a verge tree, they might find themselves in strife if the council had it valued at $20,000 and decided to prosecute and seek the cost of its replacement.

A recent in the Sunday Times stated “one in every six big trees has been cut down in some Perth suburbs in the past five years”. It also stated a WA Local Government Association tree canopy survey found tree canopy loss was impacting “on the liveability of communities, public health and local bio-diversity” (think the proposed Roe Highway extension through that biodiverse bushland).

WALGA called on the state government to give councils more power to force landowners to retain trees or plant replacement ones.

Fremantle council is aiming for 20 percent canopy cover by 2036.

But with no evidence in the new green paper that trees on private property are to be protected, even if local authorities have protection orders, they could be overruled at the state level (think State Administrative Tribunal).

Third party right-of–replies are necessary so important information from the public can be brought to the attention of review panels.

In WA there are a handful of companies or individuals that can provide professional arboricultural advice that has legal standing.

Council parks departments previously had a horticultural technical officer to deal with all aspects of council-managed greenery, but aren’t tree specialists. In the last decade many such authorities now have resident tree officers to deal with tree issues on a daily basis.

King’s Park has had a well-respected arboricultural manager for 20 years, as does Perth council.

As trees cannot speak for themselves, it is down to us to look after them.

Trees in the city – are they worth protecting? I think so.

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