Woman chains herself to tree to stop cutting

An old maple tree targeted for removal could possibly become the focus of legal proceedings today.

An old maple tree targeted for removal could possibly become the focus of legal proceedings today.

The tree, estimated to be hundreds of years old, is located next to the Island Saving Centre’s parking lot on James Street and was scheduled to be taken down on Tuesday as part of the centre’s plan to upgrade the parking lot.

But when workers arrived Tuesday morning to take the tree down protester Seairra Courtemanche had chained herself to it.

The RCMP were unable to convince her to end her protest, and the plan to remove the tree was postponed.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District, which leases the Centre’s property from the Municipality of North Cowichan, has indicated it may apply for a court order today to have Courtemanche and any other protesters removed from the site for their own safety.

Courtemanche said the tree is older than Duncan and has been an iconic attraction on James Street for decades, and many people are expressing support for her cause.

Courtemanche said a petition she began to save the tree has garnered more than 200 signatures in just two days.

“They want a bigger parking space at the Island Savings Centre, and there is some uncertainty and safety concerns as to the structural integrity of the tree,” she said.

“But it’s very much alive and I don’t think it’s a safety hazard to anyone. I want the tree to be left standing and this area turned into a green space. I’m not leaving here until this tree is saved.”

Al Siebring, a member of the Island Savings Centre Commission, said on his Facebook page that if the CVRD applies for the court order, his hope is that an impartial judge will look favourably upon the independent arborist’s report that was completed on the health of the tree and concur that it poses a threat to public safety.

“The parking lot isn’t what’s driving the removal of the tree, it’s a public safety issue,” Siebring said.

“Some have pooh-poohed that, but the fact is that when any level of government is apprised of a liability risk, the default policy is to remove that risk so as to reduce the liability and the cost to the taxpayer.”

North Cowichan Coun. Joyce Behnsen visited Courtemanche and the tree Monday afternoon.

She said she knew of the plan to upgrade the parking lot, but didn’t know the removal of the tree was part of the project.

“There’s no doubt that the tree is very much alive, and I know that lots of people stop by just to enjoy it,” she said.

“It’s on the boulevard and not in the parking lot at all, so my concern is that there have been no public consultations on what the plans are for the boulevard and James Street.”