Saturday, April 22, 2017

Vancouver's ex-trees

Given that Vancouver is trying to reverse the decline in the city's tree canopy, John and I were surprised recently to come across the remains of two substantial trees, newly cut down on the boulevard at 34th and Carnarvon.  The explanation? Construction of the nearby house damaged them so severely that they had to be chopped down.  Photo by John.

Vancouver, famous for its beautiful trees, has lost a Stanley Park's worth of them in the last two decades. Its tree canopy -- the percentage of the city covered by tree leaves as seen from above -- had declined as of 2015 to 18 per cent from 22 per cent in 1995.

The reasons aren't hard to guess when 1,000 homes are torn down in Vancouver every year, along with all the greenery that once surrounded them. Replacement trees are often scrawny and ill-tended; I've even seen people removing them when they sell and move on to a new place.

The city is trying to encourage private property owners to add to the canopy by offering cheap trees in occasional sales, and says it is planting large numbers on public lands. So it has been surprising and alarming lately to come across several substantial trees -- some showing no signs of disease -- cut down on city boulevards.

When I called the city about two major street trees reduced to stumps at 34th and Carnarvon, I was told they were chopped down because construction of the new house beside them had destroyed their roots. "The trees were unstable because the roots had been severely damaged by construction," said an employee with the park board's urban forestry branch. She said such occurrences are infrequent, and inspectors try to keep an eye on what is happening around construction sites. "I'm not sure where it failed in this case." But even when proper processes are followed, she noted, construction can damage outlying tree roots.

As for the penalty for the tree-killers, she wouldn't be specific. But she did say substantial street trees can be worth "in the tens of thousands."

Hmmm. If you're building a house you plan to sell for say, $4 million, and the nearby trees affect the view, how much of a deterrent would a $40,000 or even $60,000 penalty be?

I was shocked recently to come across only a stump where I used to see a substantial tree on my way to work every day. This is at the corner of 20th and Puget, and I know the little white house behind the tree has recently been sold. 

This stump, butting up against a concrete wall, is on 23rd.

One of two trees cut on the boulevard of 23rd and Valley. 

One of the 23rd and Valley trees, with the second stump in the distance. 

A look at the second tree cut at 23rd and Valley.


  1. It's almost impossible to believe that they cut down healthy trees...worth asking the city I think.

  2. I updated this after getting a response from the park board people, who look after street trees. Seems that if you damage tree roots severely enough during construction, you can indeed get rid of public trees around your expensive new house.