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Significant Woodlands

Project Status: 

Significant Woodlands Guidelines

Draft guidelines available for public comment

The City of Ottawa seeks public comment on draft guidelines for implementation of the City’s Significant Woodlands policies.  The deadline for public comment is December 17, 2018.

Please submit your comments to:
Nick Stow
Senior Planner
Resiliency and Natural Systems Planning
City of Ottawa
Mail Code 01-15
110 Laurier Avenue West, 4th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 1J1


The Significant Woodland Guidelines explain the significant woodland policies of the City of Ottawa and how they shall be implemented in the City’s planning processes.  They supplement and form part of the City’s broader Environmental Impact Statement Guidelines.  Once approved by City Council, the guidelines will provide detailed, direction on the interpretation and application of the City’s significant woodland policies, for use by the public, City staff, and other parties in land use planning, review of development applications, and application of the City’s By-laws.


Section 2.4.2 of the City’s Official Plan, as amended by Official Plan Amendment 179 (currently under appeal) defines significant woodlands as:

  1. Any treed area meeting the definition of woodlands in the Forestry Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F.26 or forest in the Ecological Land Classification for Southern Ontario; and
  2. In the rural area, meeting any one of the criteria in the Natural Heritage Reference Manual, as assessed in a subwatershed planning context and applied in accordance with Council-approved guidelines, where such guidelines exist; or
  3. In the urban area, any area 0.8 hectares in size or larger, supporting woodland 40 years of age and older at the time of evaluation.

OPA 179 brought the Official Plan definition of significant woodlands into compliance with the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS).


In Ontario, municipal planning decisions must be consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS).  The PPS states that municipalities must identify and protect “significant woodlands” from negative impacts in planning decisions.  The PPS also states that municipalities will identify significant woodlands using provincial criteria, which appear in the Province’s Natural Heritage Reference Manual (NHRM).

At the same time, municipalities must also implement other PPS policies that can conflict with the direction to protect significant woodlands.  These policies include such things as the requirement to provide adequate land supply for future population and economic growth, efficient use of land, and urban intensification.  The PPS directs municipalities to strike a balance between these priorities.

The draft Significant Woodland Guidelines provide direction on how Ottawa will identify and protect significant woodlands in the context of other PPS and Official Plan policies.  Key elements of the Guidelines are:

  • Detailed direction on the application of the NHRM criteria in the City’s rural area.
  • An explicit ecosystem services approach to the evaluation of significant woodlands in the urban area, emphasizing economic, social, cultural, and health benefits.
  • Detailed direction on the interpretation and application of the no negative impact test in the context of other PPS policies, with examples.

By taking an ecosystem services approach to the evaluation of urban woodlands, the draft Significant Woodland Guidelines reflect current research and science on the services and benefits provided by urban trees and forests.  In particular, development of the Guidelines drew heavily on the Ecosystem Services Toolkit developed by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments of Canada (Value of Nature to Canadians Study Taskforce, 2017).

Development of the guidelines

The City consulted with a multi-stakeholder Working Group on development of the Significant Woodland Guidelines.  The Working Group included representatives from community sector, the environmental sector, the environmental consulting industry, and the development industry.  The Working Group operated on a consensus basis, on the understanding that members might subsequently disagree with any or all portions of the guidelines.

Approval process and timelines

Consideration of the new Significant Woodlands Guidelines by Planning Committee and Council is anticipated for February 2019.  The final Guidelines will appear on the public agenda of the Planning Committee one week prior to the committee meeting date.  Anyone wishing to submit comments on the final Guidelines may do so in writing to the Clerk of the Planning Committee or may address Planning Committee directly at the meeting.

If approved by Planning Committee, the Significant Woodland Guidelines would go to full City Council for final approval.