Treating trees like weeds

Martha Muzychka
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Ronald Reagan once said, “A tree’s a tree. How many more do you need to look at?” It would seem that the people responsible for the removal of the mature trees from the front of the Colonial Building subscribe to Reagan’s philosophy.

It was a shock to read the news last week. It was a horrible feeling to drive by and see them gone, with a stump and some sawdust as the last trace of their existence.

I am fond of trees, and those that tower majestically in Bannerman Park, that sheltered so beautifully in front of the Colonial Building and that fill the grounds of Government House are among my favourites.

When we have had big storms that brought down trees by the dozens, we’ve experienced a collective mourning.

The loss of the memorial tree in Bowring Park dismayed us all, especially those that remember playing beneath its incredibly spreading branches. The loss of some of the oldest trees in Bannerman Park brought visitors by the carload, post-Igor, to remember what it looked like before nature went rogue with the wind.

When people move into their homes in new subdivisions, one of the things they do is plant trees. They know it is a small gesture of faith and a promise for the future. In fact, in some communities across the country, the municipality requires developers to save trees or plant new ones.

While I have issues with many decisions our municipal government has made in the past, the desecration at the Colonial Building is not their fault. No, this one rests on the provincial government alone, and the feeble attempts to justify the trees’ removal speak volumes.

The trees were not diseased. The trees may have been in the way, but that could have been managed with some advance planning focused on saving rather than chopping.

No, the reason the trees were removed was that they were not there when the building was first built and the restoration plan is predicated on bringing the building to what it was originally.

Think about that for a moment. There were no trees when the building was first built so that means there should be no trees now because it wouldn’t be authentic.

Of course, as a friend observed, this means the plans must include the removal of plumbing and electricity, as these were not original to the structure. With that kind of approach, one wonders why the Bannerman Park Foundation has not embarked on a wholesale deforestation of the grounds in its efforts to restore the park? Or why isn’t the current remodelling of the exterior of Confederation Building bringing the building back to its original design, just in a brighter, shinier state? Why bother to plant a new memorial tree in Bowring Park?

While I have issues with many decisions our municipal government has made in the past, the desecration at the Colonial Building is not their fault. No, this one rests on the provincial government alone, and the feeble attempts to justify the trees’ removal speak volumes.

It boggles the mind that such specious reasoning is used to defend a foolish and shortsighted decision. But what is perhaps the most offensive aspect of this process is the government’s assertion that as a Crown property, there is no need to consult with city officials, or even its citizens.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that a couple of trees on the other side of my fence were dead, victims to winter’s icy blasts. They were unsightly and I wanted to remove them. When I reported the problem, I learned the city arborist would make that decision and furthermore, if I had any problems with my own trees, I had to discuss their removal with him.

It strikes me that the provincial government’s approach is more than a little highhanded. To take the stance that government property is exempt from city by-laws and policies reinforces the notion that principles such as accountability, responsible stewardship, transparency and common sense are not valued as they should be in this higher level of government.

Why else would you omit the removal of trees from the renovation plan? Why else would such a patently ridiculous notion about authenticity be raised as justification for their removal once the deed was done?

This past weekend, I saw an aerial photograph of the city from the mid-1950s. While there were great swathes of new houses along Elizabeth Avenue, there was not a single tree to be seen. Today that same area is filled in with gorgeous canopies of leafy beauty. I am thankful that the owners and city officials had the foresight to plant, and that the new owners and current city managers see fit to maintain those long-term investments in our urban environment.

Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living and working in St. John’s. She has planted trees in every place she’s lived to date.

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Recent comments

  • Marian Atkinson
    May 20, 2014 - 18:38

    Thank you Martha. I grew up, spent 17 years living on Rawlin's Cross. I too was shocked to see those trees cut down so mercilessly. The building now looks so stark; those trees were meant to be there; the fence could have encompassed them. This government has to be the most arrogant we've ever had to bear. I even remember when the 'fountain' was turned on for the first time and thought the construction there was only to remove that. No los there. But the removal of those trees is a disaster and a travesty.

  • Fred
    May 20, 2014 - 09:02

    A tree is a tree and nothing more.

  • Cashin Delaney
    May 20, 2014 - 06:37

    Stop trying to figure out complicated, provincial government stratagem. Next thing, you'll be wondering why they didn't cut down all the trees in the Muskrat reservoir. Maybe they were hogweed-hybrid trees. Wait until they pay a smart person to make up an answer, then you will get an opengov response. Is there anyone they can RENT, at MUN, to defend them, I wonder? Is there any issue that I cannot spin into Muskrat Falls?

  • Dee
    May 20, 2014 - 06:25

    I guess some people are tree lovers,I'm not so it don't bother me when they remove them.But I was affected by the removal of the fountain that was in front of the building the colored lights,I loved playing in it as a child,today I don't really care.But every are fighting about trees and the city is not doing enough to save them,but have you ever stepped back and look at the houses especially across from the park they are in such poor shape but nothing is being done by the city to have some of these homes painted or even taken care off,these neglected home are all over the city but downtown seems to get all the attention,get behind these people who maybe don't have the income to take care of there home,maybe these seniors can't afford a contractor to paint their homes.Get behind the people who really needs help in the downtown area there are many of them living down there.