Getting the axe

Photo by Brandon Zarzycki
Photo by Brandon Zarzycki

Hundreds of trees a high-danger risk to Coquitlam residents

By Aaron Guillen, Staff Reporter

Coquitlam residents may recall the events of 2015’s wind storms and severe droughts. Yet while the drastic changes in weather disheartened locals, the safety around forested areas took the greatest hit. Streamside Protection and Enhancement Areas (SPEAs) have been set in place by municipalities to ensure the preservation of streams and forestry maintains a healthy balance.

Recently, the City of Coquitlam has agreed on allocating $650,000 from the Extreme Weather Fund towards the removal of over 600 trees in SPEAs located on Burke Mountain. The initiative, having acted upon the results of the Tree Risk Assessment (TRA), has been in the works since May, after a Port Moody woman was killed when a tree fell on her home.

“It is not often that something that is a life-and-death issue comes before us,” said city councillor Terry O’Neill to Tri-City News. “I believe this is a life-and-death issue.”

According to the municipality’s website, the funds headed towards the initiative will not only include the removal of 600 trees (mostly western hemlocks), but the pruning and trimming of 300 more, debris management, and replanting. While the urgency couldn’t be presented at more of an all-time high, the concern has been expressed from council members about the accuracy of past and potential assessments, in general.

Over a decade ago, the SPEA land was given over to the City of Coquitlam and initial assessments had been conducted, concluding that the surrounding tree cover was healthy and strong. Now, with an imminent danger looming over the Burke Mountain community, city councillor Chris Wilson is simply disappointed.

“It is so frustrating that we have such a problem when we are supposed to put all of our trust in the qualified professionals,” Wilson expressed to Tri-City News. “To get it wrong like this, it just makes me wonder what other problems we will have in the future.”

Not to be downplayed, Raul Allueva, Coquitlam’s general manager of parks and recreation, pointed out in the same article that predicting the outcome 10 years down the road would have been unforeseeable, especially due to recent weather extremes. Bruce Blackwell, a principal conductor during initial assessments, claimed that one wind storm could significantly change the face of an SPEA.

With the winter season approaching, Coquitlam council is accelerating for the completion of the project by the end of 2016, with hazard tree removal work beginning by the end of October. Until then, council has been getting signatures from Burke Mountain residents at risk, to ensure cooperation between citizens and local government. Alongside the future prevention against fallen trees and ruined property, the SPEAs are expected to make significant environmental recovery by ensuring future trees will be sturdy and ecologically sustainable.