Easter Monday Shame
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
Neither by-laws nor citizen protest seem to be enough to lift blinders from City officials and so-called developers with no eyes to see or ears to hear. A piece of Ottawa’s natural heritage, an individual tree more than a metre in diameter and healthy despite its 180 + years, is scheduled to fall on Easter Monday, the day after Christ’s resurrection.
Common sense would dictate that special trees get special treatment when pursuing the goals of in-fill development, but the City Manager’s response to questions from various citizens about the conditions under which a tree cutting permit would be denied, falls short. Mr. Kirkpatrick’s response, posted to this blog as a public record from a public official, does not actually answer the question posed. It is now left to David Barkley, Manager of Forestry Services, to provide specific and relevant examples of tree permits denied, and the reasons given (with names and location removed to protect privacy). That is, if there are any cases. Only then can any reasonable person conclude that all options were explored to conserve the magnificent bur oak at 115 Northwestern Avenue in Champlain Park.
The broader issue, and the core lesson I am asking the City and others to draw from this mistake, is that distinctive trees cannot be simply reduced to just one more tree to be traded for another tree or sapling here or there. The biomass, forest cover, and old genes of the tree in question are of far greater value than the two saplings to be planted by the developer as compensation, or even the promise of protecting two much smaller City-planted trees on the property. What has not yet been recognized is that the fallen tree is uniquely part of a specific, identifiable natural heritage: the City’s largest remaining collection of ancient bur oaks. These large and original trees number only 24, and are about to number 23. The bur oak at 115 Northwestern is the fourth largest of all these trees, and graces the view of pedestrians from Tunney’s Pasture and the Ottawa River bikepath (see interactive map). For a tree on private property, it has a very public presence.
It is fair to say that the bur oaks in Champlain Park have been invisible to Forestry Services until now. Foresters trained to value trees mainly in terms of board-feet do not normally consider the bur oak to be special, or really old bur oaks worth getting into a knot about. Urban forestry, however, is a different discipline and requires a different lens with which to assess the importance of individual trees and groups of trees, especially in a residential context. These bur oaks are historic (noted by a French Captain in 1685), they have hardy genes older than anything at Canada’s National Arboretum, they are on the northern edge of their range and in a representative ecosystem (riparian oak forest), they were protected and accommodated by builders in the past, they are now the defining tree in this relatively treed neighbourhood. And they work their magic on the hundreds of people that pass by everyday.
If these qualities do not make them standout for explicit recognition and consideration then all other heritage trees in the City of Ottawa, whether urban or rural, are equally doomed.
As noted by Mr. Kirkpatrick, the Urban Tree Conservation By-law is relatively new. I assume from that statement that it is not yet clear where and how and why to apply the by-law. Amendments may be needed. A new by-law under the Ontario Heritage Act may be needed to protect heritage trees and groups of heritage trees such as the Champlain Oaks. I would like nothing more than to direct my efforts to such positive ends, in keeping with the original motive of education and celebration that launched the Champlain Oaks Project. I’m looking for a sign, however, that distinctive trees are called ‘distinctive’ for a reason beyond simply a measure of their girth. --Dennis Van Staalduinen