The tree at Humboldt, Wharf and Government Streets was chopped down this morning to make room for new bike lanes. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Humbug on Humboldt, tree advocates call out progress

Environmental advocates shocked at backlash over single tree

When 5,000 trees were removed from the Vandekerkhove property on Watkiss Way in 2016 to farm hay, few batted an eye.

When at least 512 trees and thousands of native shrubs were felled and removed for the current McKenzie Interchange, again, the backlash was mild.

But when a number of people spoke out online about the removal of the so-called Humboldt tree, which came down on Monday so Victoria can redesign the intersection to add a scramble crosswalk and a bike lane, it triggered a response from environmental advocates regarding the McKenzie Interchange as well as cycling advocates for Victoria.

READ MORE: ‘Heart of the city’ tree comes down in Victoria

“There’s a lot of crocodile tears over the one tree being cut down for a bike lane when almost nothing was said when hundreds of trees were cut down for the McKenzie exchange (or for the Malahat widening),” said Victoria resident Doug Grant. “Victorians like to think they’re a green town – it’s just a lot of talk. It rarely walks the walk.”

The tipping point for many was when residents questioned the tree’s removal as part of the City of Victoria’s commitment to climate change.

“If you’re taking out a 50-year-old tree and putting in a sapling, you’re removing all this growth that’s already a service to climate change,” said Community Trees Matter Network member Nancy Lane Macgregor.

The tree in question is the birch tree, or Betual papifera, at Humboldt and Government streets. It was planted in the 1970s as part of the Government Street Mall upgrades and is being removed for the new pedestrian scramble (all-ways) crosswalk at Humboldt and Government, part of an overall improvement that includes a new bike lane.

As Victoria cycling advocate Ed Pullman pointed out, one tree sequesters only a fraction of the carbon emissions that a car puts out. In other words, a tree can digest and process about 22 kilograms of carbon emissions a year while, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average commuter car emits 4.6 metric tonnes.

So if the bike lane can equal the effect of taking one car off the road, it well be well worth it, he said.

READ MORE: Residents push back on downtown Victoria tree removal

READ ALSO: Hidden pedestrian scramble intersection already exists in Victoria

According to the City of Victoria’s latest Climate Action report, 40 per cent of Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 (370,000 tonnes total) came from transportation (approximately 50 per cent came from buildings, and 10 per cent from waste).

In fact, the tree is not being removed for the bike lane but as part of the intersection’s all-ways scramble crosswalk improvement, noted another cycling advocate, Corey Burger.

Julian Anderson, longtime steward at Cuthbert Holmes Park, noted that trees are fallen for city projects regularly and believes this tree set off Victoria’s anti-bike lane establishment and others who should pay more attention to the city’s happenings.

“What we’re seeing with the tree downtown is a general public outrage that we never saw when the McKenzie Interchange was proposed,” Anderson said, alluding to the rare grove of 309 trembling aspen trees, and the 212 mature trees of the Garry oak woodland that came down beside Spectrum Community School in the last 24 months.

While the Humboldt tree is in good health and birch trees in ideal conditions can live for more than 100 years, it’s also due to be replaced by two red oaks. The red oaks are native to North America and were selected for this location for their suitability, said City of Victoria spokesperson Bill Eisenhower.

The Ministry of Transportation does have plans to replace 600 new trees near the McKenzie Interchange, and many native shrubs were inventoried and will be replenished on the new berm and the post-construction areas.

reporter@saanichnews.com

Just Posted

Five Halloween activities for adults to celebrate the spooky season

Halloween isn’t just for little ghouls in Greater Victoria

Central Saanich changes incentives for housing developments

Changes shift incentives for some developments from development cost charges to building permit fees

VIDEO: Saanich resident shocked when trespasser licks security camera, rummages through mail

‘I found the situation really bizarre,’ said the Gordon Head resident

BC Ferries crew member taken to hospital after getting struck by bow doors

Two sailings between Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay were cancelled

Goldstream Food Bank on the search to fill Christmas Hampers with toys

Volunteers are looking for new toys for infants to 11-year-olds

VIDEO: Explosion, fire sends woman running from Saanich home

Heavy smoke in the area, crews on scene

Jack’s Devils beat Quinn’s Canucks 1-0 in NHL brother battle

New Jersey youngster scores first career goal against Vancouver

Two charged after owner’s wild ride through Kamloops in his stolen truck

Crystal Rae Dorrington, 37, and Derrick Ronald Pearson, 32, facing multiple charges

Judge orders credit union’s bank records for Kelowna social worker facing theft allegations

The man is accused of negligence, breach of contract, fraud and a conspiracy with Interior Savings

Leaders pour it on with rallies, boosts for candidates as campaign reaches peak

The federal election campaign has reached a crescendo

Allegations of racism lead to ministry investigation at Vancouver private school

St. George’s School was contacted over what the school describes as ‘deeply offensive behaviour online’

Not a political question: Thunberg calls for climate action in Alberta

Edmonton police estimated the size of the crowd at about 4,000

Zantac, the over-the-counter heartburn drug, pulled in Canada, U.S.

Health Canada also investigates possible carcinogen in some ranitidine drugs

B.C. public safety minister says cannabis edibles not in stores til January

Mike Farnworth says he wants regional issues considered when it comes to licensing

Most Read