Viewpoint: The tree felling conundrum
By FRANTS ATTORP
Trees. They are a key feature that sets this protected area apart from the surrounding urban sprawl.
And they contribute so much. They are integral to the hydrological cycle and home to myriad lifeforms. They filter out pollution, release oxygen and soak up enormous quantities of carbon dioxide, thereby helping slow climate change. And, just as importantly, they bring beauty and serenity to a world that has become hectic, fragmented and commodified. Collectively, they are part of a unique and fragile ecosystem known as the Coastal Douglas-fir zone.
When we bought our south-end home 10 years ago, we did so because of the trees and the privacy they afford. We cannot see any neighbours, and have backdoor access to many kilometres of hiking trails. We feel very fortunate.
As with all other rural properties, development of ours required plenty of tree clearing. Trees were felled for the house, outbuildings, a garden area, a driveway and a septic field. Of the six acres we own, approximately 20 per cent has been cleared, and we don’t even have a garage or secondary dwelling like many others.
Over the years, the forest has tried relentlessly to reclaim its territory, but I have a handsaw to keep the vegetation at bay. The choice is clear: fresh beans and tomatoes or encroachment by fast-growing trees and bushes. And that’s not to mention the remaining tall trees near the house that whip back and forth during windstorms. Yikes!
There are many other reasons trees are felled, such as for pasture, orchards or more light. Views are also popular. Wooded lots can sit on the market for ages, attracting little attention until some or all of the trees are removed. There may be a Darwinian explanation. Studies have shown that people from many different cultures prefer landscapes similar to the Pleistocene Savannah where they evolved — vistas featuring open spaces, copses of trees and water in the distance.
There is of course money in the trees themselves. Some cash-strapped people buy a property with the aim of selling the trees to help pay the mortgage. Developers, meanwhile, look for larger parcels with merchantable timber so they can sell the logs, subdivide, and then market the newly created lots. The infamous “strip and flip.”
So what can we conclude? First, the obvious: modern humans can be incredibly destructive. The Islands Trust, whose primary responsibility is to protect ecosystems, must therefore limit long-term growth as much as possible.
Secondly, with so much money at play, there will likely be significant resistance to more restrictive land use regulations. Rather than do battle with private landowners, the Trust, with limited enforcement capabilities, may pursue a variety of density deals that give landowners an economic incentive to protect forestland. Some swaps may be warranted, but overuse of this planning tool will violate our official community plan and erode the rural character of the island.
Lastly, the tree removal issue is complex and made more problematic because many expect the same development rights here as in unprotected areas. This settlers’ mentality impairs conservation efforts. To slow deforestation we need not just a change of policy but a change of heart.