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The City of Vancouver says it will cut down 30 stately elm trees in east Vancouver. The trees are on East Sixth Avenue in Vancouver, running from the 1700 block to 2100. (Campbell Sharman/The Globe and Mail/Campbell Sharman/The Globe and Mail)
The City of Vancouver says it will cut down 30 stately elm trees in east Vancouver. The trees are on East Sixth Avenue in Vancouver, running from the 1700 block to 2100. (Campbell Sharman/The Globe and Mail/Campbell Sharman/The Globe and Mail)

Cutting of 'problematic elms' causes uproar Add to ...

Cutting down a tree in Vancouver often means both a neighbourhood uproar and a fine from the city.

But a decision to cut down 30 mature elm trees in a seven-block stretch in east Vancouver will bring no fine, since it's the Vancouver park board proposing to take down one-fifth of the trees in that area.

Irate residents, however, are mounting a campaign to stop what they see as unnecessary urban clear-cutting on the stretch of East Sixth around Commercial and Victoria.

"These trees are spectacular, absolutely the best thing about the street," said Cindy Brenneis, one of many objecting to the plan residents were alerted to over the weekend. "And I'm not seeing any convincing evidence that they have to come down."

A letter from a city arborist notified residents that the 30 trees are a variety of elm that grows very tall, whose branches have to be constantly pruned to keep them away from BC Hydro power lines.

The 70-year-old trees have been pruned so many times that they now have a "weight imbalance" that is unmanageable and they need to be removed, says the letter.

Park board chair Aaron Jasper also said the trees on that street take four times the level of maintenance as most other trees in the city because they are so weak, and city crews have been called out dozens of times in recent years to deal with fallen branches and other problems.

"Obviously, no one wants to see a tree cut down. And, in a perfect world, hydro lines would all be underground," said Mr. Jasper. "But these elms are particularly problematic. And any further pruning would be dangerous. I have to say, these ones have got to go."

The city has an agreement with BC Hydro to split the $40,000 cost of cutting the existing trees and replanting them with another, shorter species.

But a Hydro official says his agency hasn't identified the trees as hazardous or problematic. Hydro is providing money from its re-greening fund to plant new trees, not for any removal of old ones.

"We didn't identify them as a problem at all," said Brian Fisher, a senior planner for vegetation management with Hydro. "For us, a hazardous tree has a very formal definition. It is a tree with a flaw or a condition that could lead to imminent failure." That wasn't the case for the elms on East Sixth, he said.

If the city had not decided to cut the trees, "we probably would continue to prune them."

Hydro prunes trees every three years around its power lines. The city, which spends $4-million a year on the practice, prunes its trees on an eight-year rotation, a slight increase in recent years from the seven-year rotation it used to have.

Mr. Jasper said other neighbourhoods have already seen significant tree removals for the same kind of problems, including a stretch of Angus Drive in Shaughnessy where 37 trees were removed and replaced.

About 20 per cent of Vancouver streets have overhead power lines and the park board is systematically working through all of those streets to remove any problem trees that it says interfere with the lines.

However, the park board is going to have to prove its case to residents. Arborists have now set two meetings with residents for next week to explain the reasons for their decision.

Residents, who include an architect, a nursing professor, a couple of journalists and other professionals, are coming armed with criticisms of the park staff's past pruning efforts and decisions about the health of the trees.

As well, residents are thinking of commissioning their own report from an independent arborist.

"They certainly picked a fight with the wrong people," said Ms. Brenneis.



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