Park tree cutting error prompts creation of new policy
Salt Spring Parks and Recreation staff will be creating a new policy around tree removal in Capital Regional District properties after work took place without the proper professional guidance earlier this month.
Island residents reported feeling concerned about seeing multiple trees felled in Mouat and Duck Creek parks. Timber from the latter operation, which included 29 trees that were topped or taken down completely, was seen to be impeding water flow in the creek.
“Right away when I saw that I wondered who they talked to in Fisheries [and Oceans Canada] and did they have a riparian plan,” said Cathy Lenihan, who has led educational programming for the Salt Spring Island Conservancy.
Parks and recreation manager Dan Ovington reported staff work with an arborist to assess dangerous trees each spring and complete park maintenance work. All such work near creeks is supposed to be done in consultation with the Island Stream and Salmon Enhancement Society, but the society was only told about the 2020 tree cutting after the fact. Ovington said that was a mis-step.
“While safety of our visitors is our top priority we need to work with a qualified riparian professional when working in riparian zones,” Ovington said, adding the new policy will ensure there are clear guidelines for working in sensitive ecosystems in the future.
Kathy Reimer, the biologist who heads the salmon enhancement society, said riparian regulations were upgraded last year. All qualified riparian professionals were required to upgrade to the new standards at that time, and she said not many people on Salt Spring aside from herself have those qualifications. Tree-cutting took place well within the riparian zone.
“I enjoy working with the CRD. I did three projects for them on Pender last year. But I had no clue this was happening right near my home,” Reimer said.
Reimer explained that according to the Fisheries Act, the window for such work is from July 1 to the end of September. The riparian regulation also requires that trees near creeks are topped, not taken down completely.
“The creek is now full of salmon and trout fry and there must be measures in place to ensure there are no further impacts to them,” Reimer said.
While PARC said no bird nests were detected in the trees cut down at Duck Creek Park, Reimer noted because of the migratory bird legislation, tree cutting was not permitted until after July 31 at one of a consulting projects she did on Pender.
Without access to the arborist’s report, concerned residents have been baffled by some of the decisions for tree removal. Rot is clearly visible in some of the downed trunks and stumps, but others appear perfectly healthy — including a massive hemlock in Mouat Park that is estimated to be around 250 years old and was still bearing fresh needles and cones.
Reimer believes PARC should be more transparent about the work they are doing in parks, which are managed by the CRD but she says actually belong to the community.
“We’ve got all these bright people on the island who care,” Reimer said. “I’d like to see some improvement in the public consultation process.”
She suggests reviving Friends of Salt Spring Parks, which was an umbrella group representing multiple community organizations and active during the Burgoyne Bay parkland acquisition. That way, not just one or two people would be contributing to important decisions, she said.
The practice of taking down entire trees is another concern. Lenihan observed wildlife makes use of rotting trees and natural decay is an important part of the forest’s regenerative cycle. Ovington said the draft tree removal policy will include information on wildlife trees.