20 October 2023

How does the government know you've damaged a protected tree? They're watching ...

| James Coleman
Join the conversation
Street trees

The ACT Government planted 12,650 new trees during the 2022-2023 financial year. Photo: James Coleman.

Spotted new tree plantings in your street and not happy about it? You’re not alone.

The ACT Government is on a mission to grow tree canopies in the suburbs to 30 per cent by 2045. The current figure is around 20 per cent, so this means 500,000 new trees will need to be planted over the next 22 years, at a rate of around 22,700 per year.

The aim for the 2022-2023 financial year was 18,000, but in its annual report, the Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS) directorate revealed it fell short of this quota by 5350 trees (or 30 per cent) due to a “variety of factors”.

READ ALSO ‘Clear, unmistakable breach of our Territory rights’: Federal Senate rejects Cash’s attempt to stop ACT’s drug decriminalisation law

These include things like “procurement delays, limited contractor availability … persistent wet weather impeding access for planting, limitations on suitable planting sites due to planting restrictions”, as well as “refusal of street tree plantings by adjacent residents”.

In other words, some residents have been tearing out the new plantings.

This is possibly because they want to park their car on the nature strip, or because they simply don’t want a tree near their home. City Services crews might water and mulch the new planting initially, but it is ultimately the resident’s job to look after the tree and clean up after it.

street trees

Street trees have their upsides … Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Of the 12,650 trees planted throughout the 2022-2023 financial year, 5211 were planted on street verges and laneways.

The government didn’t reveal how many of these have since gone missing, except to say “the locations are evenly distributed across Canberra and do not suggest a ‘hotspot’.”

“While vandalism of trees planted … was identified, it is not considered to be a significant impact,” a spokesperson told Region.

In other words, they’re also watching. From up high.

Those protected trees located in construction sites are regularly inspected for damage, but the government uses other means to keep tabs on those hidden from view in the likes of private backyards.

“Newly planted or juvenile trees are monitored through ArcGIS Field Maps, which includes reporting of vandalised or missing trees,” the spokesperson said.

READ ALSO Vaccine shortage sees RSPCA NSW shelters unable to take surrendered or stray cats for one month

‘ArcGIS’ is an online geographic information system (GIS) software fed with imagery from satellites. This allows the government to create a precise GPS coordinate for each new planting – down to a few centimetres – complete with a photo of it.

Every five years, the government also uses ‘LiDAR’ (Light Detection and Ranging) to check canopy coverage. Aeroplanes or helicopters pulse the land below with infrared lasers, which bounce back to a GPS receiver to form a topographic map of any tree three metres high or more.

But what if you, say, happen to drop a can of petrol near the planting’s root system and it inexplicably dies? You’re not even off the hook then, because the government can do tree ‘autopsies’ in the case of suspected poisonings.

“Where possible and appropriate, samples of suspected poisoned trees are collected and sent for analytical analysis including testing for foreign contaminants, such as poisons or petrochemicals,” the spokesperson said.

… and their downsides. Photo: Melanie Broadbent.

Then there are the fines.

From 1 January next year, the Tree Protection Act 2005 becomes the Urban Forest Act 2023, with harsher penalties for those who commit a criminal offence and remove or damage a “public asset”.

Under the changes, trees at least eight metres high (12 metres under current law) or with a circumference of at least one metre (1.5 metres currently) will be protected – even if they’re on private property. Even large dead native trees will be protected, as a habitat for animals.

A person who intentionally damages a protected tree will face a fine of up to $80,000, a change on the current maximum of $64,000.

Might almost be cheaper to buy a new house without a street tree.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Just look at the total destruction of the Northbourne Avenue trees to make way for the hopeless tram.

1. More trees were planted on northbourne Avenue than the amount of trees removed, many are now reaching mature height, so hardly total destruction.
2. The ‘tram’ has had over 15 million trips since it started, is the single most used public transport route, reduced car usage 13% along the inner north route and 9% on the Gungahlin route, so hardly hopeless.

But let’s not allow facts to get in the way of a good whinge.

Fat chance of catching anyone who cuts down a tree or trees in the ACT.

ChrisinTurner10:03 pm 19 Dec 23

The worst offenders for tree removal are the ACT government and their developer mates. Even if a development doesn’t go ahead the street trees first get removed. These trees are not even on land owned by the developer so why do they get removed?

I love trees, but I didn’t love the gum tree planted right over my water pipes – an idiocy repeated right up the street! Then when the roots got into the water pipes I was told to get 3 quotes from plumbers on where the roots had penetrated the water pipes on the pavement, then have them build a trap down all at my expense, and ACTEW would come along and get the roots out!!! Why do I have to pay for the stupidity of planting a gum tree over a water pipe, which I had no say in, then pay for the ongoing expenses of keeping the roots out of the pipes when it was not even on my property. And I haven’t even begun on the leaves, branches and tree spiders coming down on my roof, as the tree was planted in front of a Town house not even 2 m from the wall. No wonder people rip them out!

So, the report says it is ultimately the resident’s job to look after the tree. and by extension, the nature strip. Fair enough, if only. Well kept verges were destroyed during the drought by a prohibition on watering, with no assistance to restore and no rebate/payment for water used to restore or maintain again. No consultation, it seems from comments, on tree variety, and apparently no offer of assistance to the elderly, disabled, etc home owners. African Love Grass is now rife in nature strips and defeating many home efforts to deal with, yet the Gov doesn’t seem to bother about eradicating this noxious weed. It is all one way.
Consequence has been the often complained about tatty appearance of Canberra.

The policy on street trees would soon be revised to something more sensible if the government was held liable for any damage or injuries caused by a street tree.

One street tree can fill up a 240 litre green bin every fortnight just from the crap it drops.

HiddenDragon7:25 pm 22 Oct 23

As has already been pointed out, this sounds like a large dose of bluff – together with an insight into the paranoid authoritarianism which has become a hallmark of this government across a range of policy areas.

But even if every tree in the ACT really does have its own human or AI case manager, what’s the point? – as soon as this government or one of its developer mates wants the tree gone it will be gone and that will be it. The exasperating hypocrisy embodied in this reality along with the heavy-handedness of the tree protection regime endured by people who are not mates is the real problem here – public trust and faith has long since been lost, and a clueless government just doubles down on failure with more of the same.

Assuming that they do no wholeheartedly support this idiocy, or are not stupid enough to think that acquiescence might win a few tree-hugger votes, the ACT Liberals should be offering a balanced, practical alternative to Labor/Green tree policies – this could shift votes and free up resources for higher priorities.

If only the Labor/Greens government looked after existing trees, we wouldn’t lose so many. It is pure neglect.

ChrisinTurner2:18 pm 23 Oct 23

And deliberate removal like the street trees they removed in Cooyong Street in the City. The empty circles in the pavement are evidence.

It would be really good if the ACT government regulated builders and tradies in this town so they don’t damage street trees and block footpath access. They need to monitor building sites, as too many building companies do not protect, and even directly damage street trees.

Try looking at Leichhardt Street in Griffith where there’s been heavy building materials leaning against a mature street tree for more than a year, inside the fence which is supposed to protect it. The site next door shows that a mature and perfectly healthy street tree has been cut down.

Nothing worse than your neighbours pulling out their nature strip trees, having trees on the street make it look so much better.

My experience living in Turner demonstrated little if no appetite on the part of the government to look after trees that should be heritage — especially when construction was occurring. Even when they were told (and there was a tree management plan in place) nothing and nobody could get the government interested in protecting the trees; either from cars/trucks parking all over the roots or developers/builders dropping building materials on top of them.

Geoff Jenkins1:29 pm 22 Oct 23

it’s not the vandal that are the problem it’s our local Government that is the problem they instigate these plans with out any consideration for the upkeep of the trees and then blame budget restrictions for the non maintenance of these trees that I guess would cost about $300-400 to plant per tree if not more. The park near our place is a good example

The government can damage trees with impunity though

They get to choose what tree variety you get. Widdow makers for tuggeranong and forign trees for the inner city.
You buy the land. but the government own it and the trees on it.

Australia used to have land covered in trees until the natives decided that they would use fire for hunting. The only trees left are those that are resistent to fire, they don’t otherwise have any good properties. Most of the original plans and animals are now extinct.

In my street the trees are ruined by people parking illegally on the nature strip. Even if the parking inspectors worked weekends, the money generated by all the fines would pay their salaries. Why have these rules if we don’t enforce them?

The vast majority of Canberra parks there, nor cares that people park there.
It would be cheaper for the government not to plant trees on the carparks and buy some land elsewhere and sponsor some trees. Apparently that works for green energy.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.