There is now a three part trilogy in Vancouver where a valued public resource~public trees~have been hacked or poisoned on public lands. Two of the previous public tree mutilations were performed to improve private views. You may have read the latest in the Vancouver Sun where after the December windstorm Park Board staff discovered at Spanish Banks near Tolmie Street a group of conifer trees had been delimbed and their tops sawed off.
And it wasn’t someone looking for a quick fix to grabbing a Christmas tree, as the tops and limbs were found in the park. How could someone have done this without anyone seeing? And why has this happened? Howard Norman of the Parks Board minced no words saying “In my experience, this is strictly view-related. That’s the only rational reason I can think of.”
The trees were partially sawed through and were then broken in windstorms. The trees will continue to develop, but their canopies will be significantly altered, suggesting the involvement of a nearby view property owner that may not know the wrath of Vancouverites when public trees are sullied. The Park Board is working with the Vancouver Police to ascertain who the culprit is, but finger-pointing is already focused upon the exclusive hilly view properties across from the beach.
There have been two other outrageous tree desecrations on public land. In 1997 29 maple trees and five cherry trees on ocean view property owned by Metro Vancouver were sawed down near the University Endowment Land view home of Jacqueline Cohen. It turned out that despite denying it, Ms. Cohen had indeed hired someone to cut the trees down, and forgot to pay that person, who told his story. A settlement of $50,000 was reached with Metro Vancouver as well as an apology given.
There was also the case of interior designer June Matheson who lived at 2015 Beach Avenue on English Bay. Five large public trees on city land in front of her second floor beach facing condo had been drilled into and poison sourced from the United States injected. Called the “Tree Assassin” at the time, Ms. Matheson avoided jail time but did have to pay $50,000 to have trees replanted at this location and also in Stanley Park. Ms. Matheson’s lawyer said she had to sell her view condo after being charged because “people were throwing rocks, eggs and even bags they used to clean up after their dogs at her apartment balcony. My 70-something client is now the object, truly, of feces and abuse.”
As the judge in the Matheson case observed “The resulting attention and harassment forced her to sell the two things she loved most, her apartment and her business. Ms. Matheson has demonstrated genuine contrition for her involvement.”
That is why the altering of the public trees at Spanish Banks is so alarming. It is not only the replacement of trees which may have some difficulty growing in those sandy soils, but also the misunderstanding of how close Vancouverites hold the value of the public realm and of trees in parks. Whoever cut those trees misjudged the importance of public trees to Vancouverites. As Ms. Matheson told the judge in her tree poisoning court case “”I had to sell my home that I love because of endless harassment. I now have a home with no view. My health has been affected and I’ve had death threats made against me.”