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Comment: Urban trees deserve more value than buildings

Sitting quietly one morning, I heard the chainsaw. My heart skipped a beat and I froze in my seat. I knew what was happening. The huge, old grand fir a block down the road was being chopped down.

Sitting quietly one morning, I heard the chainsaw. My heart skipped a beat and I froze in my seat. I knew what was happening. The huge, old grand fir a block down the road was being chopped down. Rising from my seat, I paced the room and started to cry. It breaks my heart to know a healthy tree is being cut down to make way for a driveway.

A couple of hours later, I drove down the street past the Fairfield Road development site. What I saw brought me to a sudden stop. Not only was the grand fir gone, but four other trees had been cut down as well. Two grand firs and three Douglas firs had been removed from a city lot.

They were not small conifers. Some had been around for between 75 and 150 years. And they were part of a large grove of conifers creating an ecosystem connecting with the natural areas of Moss Rock Park. In one morning, five old conifers had disappeared from our planet. To some this may not seem like a big deal, but when this is happening in many city blocks and forests all over the world, it’s frightening. Trees are not an inexhaustible resource.

Douglas fir trees over 60 centimetres in diameter are protected by the City of Victoria Tree Preservation Bylaw. And, yes, removing the three from the Fairfield property was legal, as they were just under 60 centimetres. Our bylaws state that cutting protected trees can occur when “the protected tree is located within the building envelope of a lot and the removal of the tree is necessary for the purpose of constructing a building, an addition to a building or construction of an accessory building.” It seems to me that we have it backwards. Trees should have priority over a building, not the building over the trees.

I understand and support the notion of urban infill to prevent development occurring in outlying natural areas. However, I do not support the wanton removal of trees in order to do so. We need to create new ways to develop property without removing trees, especially healthy old trees that have such a big impact on our physical and mental health.

• Trees absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The fewer trees there are, the warmer our climate will get.

• Trees create oxygen that is released into the atmosphere for us to breathe.

• Trees buffer noise and provide shade and shelter from the wind.

• Trees take in water and pollutants and prevent them from entering our storm drains.

• Trees provide a place for wildlife to nest, eat and find shelter.

• The leaves, cones, needles of trees provide organic matter to enrich the soil.

• Trees are sacred symbols for various religions. A grove or forest of trees is often referred to as a cathedral. Trees inspire wonder.

The City of Victoria is developing an Urban Forest Master Plan. The plan is a framework for action to “provide a roadmap to help the city invest in and maintain its urban forest for the next 20 years and beyond.” Key issues include “balancing urban development with tree conservation, protecting significant treed areas and increasing biodiversity” and “creating strategies for communities to influence the treed character of their neighourhoods.”

In a recent article about the UFMP in the Times Colonist, trees are cited as playing a “vital role … a small grove of trees can do for you what underground stormwater sewers can do for you.”

It seems strange that on one hand the city cites the value of urban trees and on the other hand, allows a grove of old conifers to fall for development. My wish is that the city will amend the Tree Preservation Bylaw to meet the standards and goals of the Urban Forest Master Plan. The former seems to contradict the latter.

Trees continue to come down. Since the removal of the five old conifers on the Fairfield Road site, I have noticed the removal of six more trees, these ones deciduous, all within a six- to eight-block radius.

The bottom line is that trees are devalued. It is this indifference toward trees that makes mockery of our supposed new respect for the environment.

Patricia Johnston of Victoria is a native-plant gardening consultant.