Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Concerns over state of city's urban forest raised at City Council Session

Christine Malaka raised concerns over the dwindling numbers for
the city's heritage, or legacy trees inside the city limits

We can see the forest, but can we see the trees, that in nutshell was a theme for Monday night's City Council session, as Council members received a presentation from Christine Malaka who provided a fifteen minute tutorial on the dwindling supply of heritage trees in the community.

Ms. Malaka who has appeared at Council before to raise the alarm noted that since her last appearance many more of the the city's legacy trees have fallen under the chain saw, some by way of sickness or safety, others as development encroaches further into the city's heritage tree locations.

To open her presentation she took Council members to their own documents, making note of a number of elements of the City's Quality of Life Community plan as well as the Hays 2.0 plan to point the way towards more awareness on the issue of legacy, or heritage trees.

"Referring to the City's Quality of Life Community plan, line one, right out of the plan says, "Prince Rupert is renowned for it's breathtaking beauty", that's the start of the entire plan. The large trees in our area that don't exist in other parts, we're in a temperate rain forest, trees can grow to amazing size that they don't outside of the coast ... they're fabulous and they don't exist in other places.

She tied the issue of trees to the Community plan and its dedication to protection of natural areas and landmarks, noting how these tress are those landmarks. She also turned to the Quality of Life's vision statement to highlight more of her concerns on how the city is approaching its natural environment.

"Even with growth, Prince Rupert has retained it's natural pristine look and feel with harbour views and mountain views" ...  it has to a larger degree, yes we can look at the mountain and yes we can look at the water. But In the town itself, I don't feel that we're doing a very good job in protecting the specific attributes."

From her observations she relayed concerns over the frequency of the number of trees that have been taken down on property in the city and noted that the Park Avenue Housing project has contributed to a large number of the city's oldest trees to come down. 

As part of her review of that project, Ms. Malaka observed that she wasn't sure that the volume of trees had to be removed, or if that location was the best spot for the supportive housing project to be developed on.

Land on Park Avenue was cleared of a number of the city's legacy trees
in order to make way for the  new supportive housing complex for the city

As for some potential solutions to the issue, she recommended to Council that bylaws could be put in place, as part of a development plan to provide for protection for heritage trees on both city and private property. 

Ms. Malaka also offered up a publication from the UBCM on urban forests as a good guideline to follow to develop policy on the issue. She also suggested that the Heritage trees issue could be made part of the City's Heritage Committee plans.

In response to her comments, a number of council members weighed in on the theme of the legacy trees of the community.

Councillor Adey passed on some of his observations on the topic calling on his time growing up in Victoria and the approach that they take there. He also relayed some of his experiences in his own neighbourhood and how there is a noticeable change when the trees come down.

"I appreciate that it sometimes has to be done because of the health of the trees, but I'm not sure that's always why it's done, so I'd like to express my appreciation for you coming to talk about this, it's good to put it in our minds for what opportunities it might create." -- Councillor Nick Adey

Councillor Skelton-Morven shared many of Councillor Adey's opinions and noted that there is a need to be more observant on the issue, reinforcing her comments on how Prince Rupert is known for its breath taking  beauty and how it's key to preserve it..

Councillor Cunningham agreed that the trees in the city need to be protected, though noted that there are many reasons for trees to be cut down citing health and safety concerns, he did agree that it would be good to resurrect the Heritage committee and that the overview on trees might fit into that mandate.

"The City has been without a Heritage committee for quite a while and it might be nice to resurrect that and it might be another way to get information coming to City Council on heritage trees or legacy trees" -- Councillor Barry Cunningham 

The City's Heritage Committee was dis-continued in 2015 when its members stepped aside after a number of years of service.

The topic of bringing it back gained a bit of momentum earlier this year, after the city's Presbyterian Church, which is now up for sale, was put on a watch list by the provincial organization Heritage BC.

As we noted at the time, ]the Council membership of 2015 at City Hall had indicated some interest in developing plans to form a new Heritage Commission, but so far, the goal of protecting the city's heritage has yet to be formally put into motion.

A review of Ms. Malaka's presentation on the legacy trees can be found from the City's Video archive, her commentary provides for the opening portion of Monday Night's City Council  Session.

For more items of interest related to Monday's City Council session see our Council Timeline here.

Further background on City Council Discussion topics can be reviewed from our Council Discussion Archive.

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