Over the past decade and more, our community has been slowly building an understanding and respect for urban trees and all the services they provide to us. We've developed policies, practices and a bylaw that protect urban trees but apparently all this progress was largely ignored at a City Council meeting this past week.
The issue was a complaint from a resident that tamarack needles were falling from the trees in a nearby green space and causing a general nuisance by damaging property. The complainant had asked council directly in a deputation to have the trees removed at the expense of the taxpayer. Although it was a close vote of 7-6, Council chose to remove the trees and replant them with spruce to the tune of about $8,500. This price doesn't include all of the salaries and costs of municipal officials that spent countless hours dealing with the issue over the past several years.
The danger with this decision is that is sets a precedent for residents to have a public tree removed if they choose to complain loudly enough. Where is the line drawn on what is a tolerable nuisance and what is not?. Clearly tolerating tamarack needles falling on a roof is now considered intolerable. What about maple leaves falling on a front yard? What about sap falling on cars parked underneath a boulevard tree? What about spruce needles falling on a driveway? I have a spruce tree in front of my house on the boulevard that shed lots of spruce needles and cones. They scatter everywhere and sometimes one will end up in my shoe or on my kitchen floor. It's the price I pay for having a mature tree to shade my house and to offer the neighbourhood birds somewhere to rest. Where else would I put my Christmas lights?
You can call a tree a nuisance but defining what is and isn't a nuisance is absolutely impossible. Raking leaves may be a bother to one person but to another it's an opportunity to create compost for a garden. Urban forest managers struggle with this constantly; they field complaints from residents who dislike a particular tree yet they are mandated to grow, preserve and protect trees on a large scale.
In my travels, I have never heard of another municipality that has paid to remove a tree because of the foliage it sheds. In fact, Skip Kincaid from the Davey Resource Group said the same thing directly to council the last time this issue came to their attention.
I'm not at all saying that every tree on public property should stay standing until the day that it dies. There are some situations where a tree can be a problem, even a nuisance. Trees that provide a risk to the safety of people or property should be dealt with appropriately but where there is no safety issue, a municipality should not be using taxpayer dollars to remove and replace it.