EDITORIAL: Stick figures

Departing Surrey mayor Dianne Watts is right – the city should not be taking down evergreens and planting 'stick' trees.

Departing Surrey mayor Dianne Watts is absolutely right – the city should not be taking down evergreens and planting what she describes as “stick” trees.

Describing the current city policy – or policy by default – as one of the pet peeves of her nine-year reign, Watts urged city staff last week, in one of her final acts as mayor, to make sure Surrey’s shrinking tree canopy henceforth includes a combination of maple trees and evergreens.

The valedictory of the erstwhile city leader should be heeded by her successor, Linda Hepner, who was sworn in as mayor last night.

Ever the astute politician, Watts is not one to be unaware of changing moods in the city or be oblivious to increasing discontent about the elimination of mature trees from neighbourhoods cited for new housing and business development.

The citizens of Surrey didn’t need a city-commissioned report – unveiled late last month – to tell them the city’s tree canopy has been drastically reduced in recent years. The report’s greatest value is in quantifying what, for some, has become more than a grim suspicion.

While Surrey’s Sustainability Charter has pegged a 40 per cent tree canopy in urban areas as a goal to be reached by 2058 – and this ratio is held as an indicator of an environmentally friendly city – the report shows Surrey galloping in the other direction.

According to the report, Surrey – which used to pride itself as ‘The City of Parks’ – has seen its canopy drop from 33 per cent in 2001 to 30 per cent in 2009 and 27.17 per cent in 2013, in areas not protected by the Agricultural Land Reserve.

That’s more than a 17 per cent decline in 13 years, even with the ‘replacement’ trees that have been planted in new developments.

As Watts declared, the city has been equally responsible for promoting the ‘stick’ trend, planting lesser trees on its medians and along its boulevards, as though this could be sufficient compensation for what is lost.

To some, a tree is a tree, but even a rudimentary knowledge of botany would indicate the vast difference between a row of recently planted small trees and a stand of mature ones.

Many who, like Watts, seek to protect Surrey’s older trees are not opposed to development. They merely think we could be more intelligent about incorporating existing vegetation with new building, through judicious land swaps and a willingness to vary from private-profit-driven streetscapes.

And if Surrey is to reach its 40 per cent tree-canopy goal, city staff cannot afford to ignore or marginalize the efforts of engaged citizens who – for the ultimate good of the city – seek creative solutions.

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