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Jail time or fines? Caution Needed When Cutting Trees

Municipal Law

published by Nathan A. Kolomaya

Cutting down a tree. Seems simple enough. Follow safety procedures and you’re good-to-go, right? Think again.

You may be looking to cut down a single tree near your home. Or you may be a farmer looking to clear some land for your farm business. Whatever your situation, be careful: if you don’t comply with the relevant rules, you may be putting yourself at risk of substantial fines, or even jail time.

Here’s one scenario: there is a tree on your lot and you want to cut it down. The hitch? The trunk of the tree is also on your neighbour’s property. Under the Forestry Act, a tree “whose trunk is growing on the boundary between adjoining lands is the common property of the owners of the adjoining lands”. If you cut down this tree without your neighbour’s consent, you may be guilty of an offence under the Forestry Act. The penalty? Under section 20 of the Act, liability for a conviction could mean a fine of not more than $20,000, or imprisonment for up to three months...or both!

Another scenario: you’re a farmer and you want to clear some trees on your land. Ontario’s Municipal Act gives municipalities the authority to pass by-laws regulating tree cutting within the municipality. In Norfolk County, we have By-Law No. 2006-170, the “Forestry Conservation By-Law”. Provisions in a municipal tree by-law typically including procedures for applying for permission to cut down trees. These by-laws also typically set out offences for contravening the by-law and penalties upon conviction, including fines.

Every tree cutting situation is different. Speak with relevant professionals and understand the rules and procedures that you’ll have to follow. Whatever your situation, this much is clear: don’t be carefree when cutting a tree.

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