Save large trees at McAdam Park
I have recently learned of some large trees at McAdam Park that are going to be removed by the city because of safety concerns to the preschool children. I understand the need to keep people safe, but given the number of large trees I have recently seen cut down in the Cowichan Valley and the very real environmental concerns brought by climate change, I feel moved to speak in favour of more protection for our trees.
Trees are important and should be valued and protected. They provide us with oxygen, they store carbon, they stabilize soil, and they support wildlife. Tree canopies trap dust and absorb pollutants from the air. They provide shade and act as a buffer for noise. They absorb carbon dioxide and the carbon that they store helps to slow global warming. Significantly, older trees are better at absorbing carbon from the atmosphere than younger ones. Trees also help prevent flooding and soil erosion; they absorb large amounts of stormwater from the ground and protect soil from the impact of rain. They also increase biodiversity, offering habitat to birds, insects, lichen and fungi. A single mature oak tree, for example, can be home to as many as 500 different species.
Large trees often have established root systems that successfully access water without significant need for irrigation. These trees have stood the test of time, they have demonstrated their viability by their very survival. In the current reality of water shortages and a warming climate, successful old trees might be crucial to our own survival. Moreover, in addition to their established water supply and carbon intake, trees themselves can work to reduce temperatures in a city, perhaps by even as much as 7 C. Trees cool the air as they lose moisture and they reflect heat upwards from their leaves.
Importantly, trees can also strengthen a community. They help to create a distinctive character of a place. They offer an invaluable opportunity for children to play and experience adventure. They offer a sheltered place to rest, a site to gather with friends or family. And as the longest living species on the planet, a tree can provide a sense of history in a community, as people interact with or witness the tree over time, remembering how it looked at different moments or recalling significant times in their own life or in their community in relation to the tree.
I believe we must protect our community’s large trees for the future. I am strongly in favour of tree bylaws that protect old trees and distinct trees — not just for their environmental value, but for their meaning in our community. But I also wonder if we need to think about trees in a new way. Instead of assessing a tree’s value by whether or not it might fall onto a building in a storm or impede the construction of new buildings, what if we recognized the incredible importance trees play in our own survival? And given that importance, what if municipalities not only protected old trees, they also educated the members of our community about their value? Municipalities could require new developments to plant trees and to build around significant trees rather than fully clearing the land. And as part of helping community members to take action to protect and care for the large trees on their own properties, what if municipalities offered citizens and business owners tax credits for being caretakers of these essential resources? Let us work to save our old trees. They are a link to our past and vital to our future.