COLUMN: Urban forest commitment less than wholehearted

Surrey residents are raising concerns about further intrusions on the Green Timbers urban forest

Once again, Surrey residents are raising concerns about further intrusions on the Green Timbers urban forest – and once again, city council is oblivious to those concerns.

The latest challenge is due to widening of 100 Avenue to four lanes, between 140 and 148 Streets. Hundreds of trees have already been cut down, along with many on the north side of 100 Avenue, including significant trees that bordered Lena Shaw Elementary.

This road-widening project is just a foretaste of what is to come. Council wants an LRT line built through the forest along Fraser Highway. Because an LRT line will require two tracks and council also wants the road widened to four lanes, the eventual clearing could be the equivalent of a nine-lane roadway – something like Highway 1.

That’s what a former president of the Green Timbers Heritage Society told me.

The society has frequently spoken out against piecemeal intrusions on the forest, much of which was dedicated as an urban forest park in a 1988 referendum. The referendum followed public outcry, when the council of the day logged off a significant portion of the forest’s northeast quadrant, near 100 Avenue and 148 Street. Plans at that time called for a sports stadium on the land.

This took place at the same time as 100 Avenue was cut through the forest, and 96 Avenue was extended between Fraser Highway and 140 Street.

The society’s website sums up its Green Timbers concerns succinctly: “It appears that although Green Timbers is valued as a green space, it’s not seen as a whole. Pieces that are historically part of this area are readied for development, and roadways are being widened, leading to further fragmentation and isolation of this forest. Shouldn’t there be a plan that takes the whole park into consideration?”

It is possible that a SkyTrain line will be built along Fraser Highway instead of an LRT line. This would still entail removal of many trees, though not as many.

As a growing city, Surrey certainly needs improvements to its transportation systems.

It also needs parks. The commitment to Green Timbers as an urban forest park has been less than wholehearted by the city.

Part of the reason was historic land ownership and reforestation. Surrey took over about three-quarters of the Green Timbers property in a land swap with the province in the late 1960s.

The northwest quadrant remained in provincial hands, as the existing Green Timbers forest nursery was based there. That portion wasn’t part of the urban forest park, although the Surrey Nature Centre is now located in that area, along with a commemorative planting of trees that marks Green Timbers as the first major reforestation site in the province.

Most people are unaware the provincial government committed to replanting logged-off forests only after the Green Timbers first-growth forest was logged in the 1920s.

Much of the urban forest park is second-growth forest that was replanted in the 1930s.

Surrey wants to build a homeless shelter and other facilities near 100 Avenue and 140 Street and cut down many more trees. This is on the former provincial land that Surrey took over much later, and was not part of the original replanting area.

This portion of Green Timbers has long been eyed for development. The RCMP E division headquarters was built in that area. When other development happens, it will significantly change the nearby forest.

Green Timbers should be seen as one of Surrey’s greatest tools to reduce carbon emissions, with thousands of trees consuming carbon dioxide. Decision-makers seem to see it as a temporary park to be used for other purposes.

This will only change when enough residents are willing to defend the forest.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News. Email: frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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