Residents push back on downtown Victoria tree removal

Residents push back on downtown Victoria tree removal

The birch tree at the Wharf-Government intersection will be removed to make way for bike lanes

VICTORIA — Port Angeles isn’t the only town with a tree-felling protest.

A tall birch tree at the Wharf, Humboldt and Government streets intersection met a similar fate Monday according to the Victoria News.

The tree was chopped to make room for the Wharf/Humboldt bike lanes, and to accommodate a new pedestrian scramble intersection.

While bike lanes are a great addition to a greener city, Community Trees Matter Network member Nancy Lane Macgregor said that trees are, too.

“We feel like it’s absolutely necessary that we maintain the urban forest,” Macgregor said. “It’s very significant because it’s at the center of the old city where people come from all over the world. It’s going to just be a cement place with some sticks; it doesn’t add up, it’s not a good plan.”

The tree was a subject of a local petition posted at www.change.org that had more than 1,100 people sign to save it, as well as public protests in the form of signs and ornaments on and around the tree.

The city looked long and hard at alternative plans, said Fraser Work, director of engineering and public works.

“When we looked at all the biggest dimensions we had to balance we realized after different looks and compromises that we wouldn’t be able to make it work,” Work said, adding that no modern-day planner would place a tree in that location.

“If you were going to put a tree in an urban environment you wouldn’t put it there; they’re all wrapped around underground infrastructure. It’s not good for the tree, or for the next person who flushes their toilet.”

The decision to cut down a sequoia at Port Angeles’ Lions Park was made after a 2½-year public process that involved a citizen subcommittee, public meetings, multiple arborist reports and the development of a tree removal policy, City Manager Nathan West has said.

He defended the in-house decision to cut the tree for public safety reasons and property damage concerns.

City officials said the sequoia’s co-dominant stems formed a weak union and posed a safety risk, and that its shallow roots were damaging a nearby driveway. Sound Urban Forestry arborist Kevin McFarland concluded in a January 2018 report that the sequoia was a “high risk” tree and should be removed.

Members of Save Our Sequoia voiced their objections to the City Council and one activist was arrested at the site of the tree stump after protesting the felling.

In Victoria, a spruce tree was removed due to the roots wrapping around underground infrastructure, and the intersection birch had to go to accommodate new aspects of the intersection, including improved pedestrian safety measures.

“It’s a very busy pedestrian intersection,” Work said. “Right now the sidewalk gets choked up, especially in the summer when there are people congregating around the Information Centre. People in wheelchairs or the elderly can’t get by, so you get accessibility concerns.”

Additionally, the intersection serves as a main artery for transit buses, tour buses, emergency vehicles and large trucks, all of which need room.

Work said that even if the city attempted to pave around the tree, they’d likely damage or kill it.

“The tree canopy is a mirror of the roots, so paving near it you actually could end up hurting the tree or ending its life by trying to maintain the area,” Work said. “You can’t shave it so close.”

Two oak trees will be installed near the Visitor Information Centre after renovations are over, a spot Work said is much more practical.

However, Macgregor said replacing trees isn’t an even switch.

“If you’re taking out a 50-year-old tree and putting in a sapling, you’re removing all this growth that’s already a service to climate change,” she said. “It’s going to take another 45 years or so for this tree to be productive or useful. Putting in a sapling isn’t going to fix things.”

People against the removal have already placed paper hearts on the surrounding fence, and Macgregor said more efforts to protest the removal will happen.

“There’s more to think about than cement,” she said.

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Peninsula Daily News contributed to this report.

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