Written by A.Gorton
The purpose of a tree protection bylaw, in theory, is to protect trees. In practice however, there are many instances where trees have no protection whatsoever. The effectiveness of the Central Saanich tree protection bylaw may have been called into question when a homeowner authorized a tree service company to cut down a nearly 80 foot tall, rare Dawn Redwood. Located on the corner of Peden and Harding Lane, the old cottage with its once-mature landscape, marks the entrance to the historic Moodyville neighbourhood.
Former gardener for Butchart Gardens Paddy Van Adrichem, now 84 years old, once lived in the historic cottage. Mr. Van Adrichem recalls planting the Dawn Redwood, Gingko Biloba, and other unique trees on the property about forty years ago. When asked his reason for choosing these varieties of trees he replied, “A gardener starts with weeds…he finally wants to grow something rare.”
The Dawn Redwood is a deciduous tree closely related to the giant sequoia and is the only living species of Metasequoia. Through fossil evidence, the Dawn Redwood was once considered to have been extinct for five million years, until one tree was discovered in 1944 by a forester in China. In 1948, researchers travelled to China and found a few thousand of Dawn Redwoods growing in remote valleys. Cuttings and seeds were collected and sent to other continents to be grown in public and private gardens, where they are enjoyed today.
For the last thirty years, a man by the name of Mr. Cecil Heide lived at the home of the old Dawn Redwood. Mr. Heide also cherished the trees and enjoyed watching them grow over the decades, until July 7th, 2011 when Mr Heide passed away. The property was sold to Mr. Heide’s neighbour and according to daughter Ann Heide, to protect her father’s beloved trees, they had an agreement in place with the neighbour that the trees would remain.
On February 1st, 2012, the chainsaws of Evergreen Tree Service fired up the quiet Moodyville community, with the intention of bringing down the old Dawn Redwood. According to Central Saanich staff, within minutes their phone lines began to ring with concerned residents wondering how such a magnificent tree could be cut down.
The current tree bylaw in Central Saanich only protects six varieties of trees: Arbutus, Garry Oak, Pacific Yew, Pacific Dogwood, Shore Pine and Trembling Aspen. Other species under 60cm in diameter at breast height, can be cut down without a permit. As well, there is no limit on the number of trees that can be removed and no expectation of replacement.
Although the Dawn Redwood was nearly 80 feet tall, it was only 59 cm in diameter at breast height. One centimetre between life and death.
The Gingko Biloba, also planted forty years ago alongside the Dawn Redwood, dates back 200 million years and is considered to be the oldest surviving tree species on Earth. This tree is also threatened under the current tree bylaw. At this time, the Gingko Biloba stands about 60 feet tall, but only has a trunk diameter of approximately 30cm.
Central Saanich Tree Protection Bylaw 1595 was updated in July of 2008 and a section was created to also define a “protected tree” as “a tree having significant botanical, historical or cultural value as listed in Schedule A.” When requesting a copy of Schedule A from the municipal hall, staff replied that there is no Schedule A. Council never created one.
The Advisory Planning Committee supported the current version of the Tree Protection Bylaw at their December 12, 2007 meeting – but not without concerns. An excerpt from the minutes states, “In discussion, some concern was expressed that the size of all trees to be defined as a ‘protected tree’ should perhaps be changed to 50cm from the proposed 60cm. It was suggested that a smaller size could result in significant staff enforcement time.”
So had Schedule A been completed, or the diameter of a “protected tree” been reduced to less then 60cm, then perhaps the old Dawn Redwood might still be here today.
Councillor Adam Olsen, Chair of the Planning and Development Committee has agreed to review the current tree protection bylaw and consider ways to strengthen the intent. In the meantime, the Moodyville neighbourhood is still adjusting to the loss of their magnificent tree. In the words of daughter Ann Heide, “If my father knew, he would be rolling over in his grave.”