EDITORIAL: Trees a hot-button issue

When trees come down on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, people are going to ask questions.

When trees come down on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, people are going to ask questions.

That’s a simple fact of life that city staff, council members and private property owners need to get their heads around. If there are very good reasons for the pruning or removal of a tree, it behooves them to have answers at the ready, or expect expressions of outrage, rumours and suppositions – however accurate or inaccurate – to multiply.

In the recent case of two Douglas firs removed from city property in the 1200-block of Oxford Street in White Rock, there seems to be little doubt, from a consultant arborist’s report, that both trees were in an advanced state of decline, observed over years. Branches that dropped off frequently were posing a risk to surrounding properties, as well as streets, sidewalks and power lines.

Director of engineering and municipal operations, Jim Gordon, was no doubt acting for the best in deciding to have the trees removed. But while due diligence may have been done in providing written confirmation to property owners within 30 metres of the tree, council members were not informed – as they should have been, under city policy – until an hour after work started. When questions were asked, they were caught unprepared.

In another recent incident, it appears that private citizens trespassed on BNSF land on the hump to remove saplings that had started to grow where trees had been removed in 2015, and which now threaten their views. It should have come as no surprise that witnesses reported the action to city bylaw officers, or that the BNSF is investigating.

In an era when long-time scientific study of the crucial importance of tree canopy to health and well being – both locally and globally – is receiving daily confirmation, trees are a hot-button issue.

While it is easy to shrug off ‘tree huggers’ – or to ask who really cares about a few trees, here and there – there is every indication the tide is turning. More and more, people are realizing that the reduction of tree canopy, and the resulting disruption of ecosystems and wildlife has a very direct physical impact on their lives.

Reaction to clear-cutting of White Rock’s hump in 2015, or the destruction of a mature cottonwood eagle-nesting tree by unknown hands in South Surrey last summer, or reports that Surrey has approved the removal of 50,000 trees since last October are clear signals that the public cares.

And when people feel their interests are threatened, no one should be surprised when they turn to those they elected to protect them.

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