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  • Two more Saanich giants to disappear

    Grace Golightly

    Mature trees provide so many benefits to the city, more should be done to preserve them.


    A STATELY AND INSPIRING Giant Sequoia tree on Livingstone Avenue in Saanich will soon be no more.

    A sign posted on the tree states Saanich will permit its removal because the root system is causing infrastructure damage.

    Saanich also plans to remove a large Ailanthus or ‘Tree of Heaven’ on the north corner of Cadboro Bay and Sinclair roads, for the same reason.

    Community Trees Matter Network (CTMN) is concerned that municipalities are not doing enough to retain huge mature trees such as these during a worsening climate emergency.

    “We have never known more about the incredible benefits that mature trees provide us. And yet we still find so many reasons to remove them,” said Janet Simpson, a member of CTMN.

    Saanich declared a climate emergency in 2019, and its award-winning Saanich Climate Plan states that large trees store 1000 times more carbon than small trees.

    The BC Coroner’s death panel review also noted the importance of trees in neighbourhoods to keep residents cool so they can survive extreme heat events. Trees can cool an area both by creating shade, and through evapotranspiration.

    They sequester carbon, prevent soil erosion, reduce flooding, filter air pollution, produce oxygen, help reduce noise and retain moisture in the ground. Trees are estimated to provide $8 in benefits for each dollar that municipalities spend on them.



    This Ailanthus, or Tree of Heaven tree, at the north corner of Sinclair Rd and Cadboro Bay Road has also been posted for removal. (Photo: Municipality of Saanich)


    Many citizens were outraged when Saanich removed more than 70 mature trees along Shelbourne Street last fall. It will take many decades for ‘replacement’ saplings to grow to a size that might come anywhere close to providing similar benefits.

    The Shelbourne Valley Action Plan still plans to fell a further 45 large trees.

    CTMN would like to see municipalities explore more ways to retain mature, healthy trees such as these. Funds could be created to help provide services such as root zone excavation, root pruning by an arborist, or the installation of root barriers.

    Trees contribute greatly to the public good, even when they’re on private property.

    Some other cities have gone to far greater lengths. For instance, in Boise, Idaho, another sequoia tree more than 100 years old was moved several blocks to a new home.

    The City of Toronto also chose to buy a residential property, in order to preserve the 250-year-old red oak heritage tree that grows upon it. Fifty percent of the purchase price was raised by donors. The property will become a mini-park.

    “We need to start thinking outside the box in order to retain these healthy trees which are—for many reasons—irtually irreplaceable,” Simpson said. She noted that saplings are very vulnerable. About one third or more do not survive, especially with increasing heat and drought. In addition, the above and below-ground space in which to grow large trees is steadily being lost to development.

     Grace Golightly is a journalist and a founding member of Community Trees Matter Network

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    It's devastating that 70 mature ‘memorial’ trees were cut down and Saanich plans to cut down another 45 for bike lanes along Shelbourne. More should be done to preserve our mature trees and look at alternative sites for bike lanes.  I know I would prefer to bike in nature or on side streets where I can access some shade, avoid riding in traffic and distance myself from fumes instead of a busy street with no shade.

    Planting saplings in place of mature trees in urban spaces face a harsh environment. Hard paved surfaces limit access to rainfall and the engineered requirements of hardscapes are the complete opposite of what the tree needs to grow in. Trucks will need to deliver water to the saplings, and yet most will die. 

    Some jurisdictions go to great lengths to preserve mature trees, especially in an urban environment because they recognize their value. This can be done by identifying, valuing and accounting for natural assets in their financial planning. I hope we do more to preserve the healthy mature trees we have left.

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