Neighborhood tree lives to fight another day

Saanich's patience coming to and end; Cadboro Bay residents threaten legal injunction against cutting down a Douglas fir

John Oberg enjoyed his morning tea from a new locale Tuesday morning: on the boulevard along Cadboro Bay Road, where he pulled up a lawn chair and sat beneath a towering Douglas fir tree slated for removal.

Oberg set up shop with a friend beneath the canopy of the ancient but ailing tree on Cadboro Bay Road near Arbutus Road, and within 15 minutes, a the tree removal company hired by Saanich to fall the tree had joined them.

Next came a small group of concerned residents who’d like to see more testing done before the tree is taken down. Representatives from the municipality’s parks department, and two police officers called in to keep the peace.

“We’re not radicals,” Oberg said. “We’re senior citizens. … We’re just a bunch of seniors that love our neighbourhood and don’t want people destroying it.”

The handful of residents refused to leave the base of the tree and their protest has worked, for now. Saanich’s plan to remove the tree is postponed once more – at least temporarily.

“Obviously it’s not safe to remove the tree if folks are in the way,” said Rae Roer, manager of Saanich parks. “The original reason to remove the tree is about safety, so we’re not going to put people at risk by trying to remove the tree, when they’re unwilling to get out from the hazard zone underneath the tree.”

The tree has fallen victim to a rot-causing fungus, phaeolus schweinitzii, and the Saanich parks department had deemed that it should be removed, given its size and location in an area prone to high winds. The group of invested locals, to which Oberg belongs, hired their own arborist to conduct an independent review of the health of the tree after Saanich’s initial discovery of the fungus in the spring.

That process yielded the same conclusion as Saanich’s testing. By the end of August, Saanich agreed to a third review of the health of the tree and imposed a deadline of Oct. 5 to receive any additional information residents found, before the scheduled removal during this week, Roer said.

“We’ve been trying to be patient to see what that information is, but there’s been no real hard and fast information that has changed our opinion,” Roer added. “Winter storms are approaching and that tree presents a risk we have to address. We’ve been very patient and attempted to be open and transparent from the beginning.”

Residents have the assistance of a lawyer who lives in the neighbourhood, Oberg said, noting that an injunction against Saanich is in the works. Roer confirmed the department had received some correspondence, but no official legal action had been made by press time.

“Where the factual trail goes, we will live with. But we are confident, we know now, that the trail still needs some development,” Oberg said.

nnorth@saanichnews.com