City trees being cut by vandals in Capitol Hill neighbourhood
Arbourists at Burnaby's city parks department are on high alert after several years of people cutting down and trying to kill trees along the Trans Canada Trail and in the Capitol Hill Conservation Area.
After the NewsLeader received a tip about a few trees being felled along the trail in recent weeks, John Devlin, Burnaby's superintendent of parks operations, confirmed the incident and noted that it's been an ongoing problem in the area for the past three or four years.
The most recent incident saw about three trees cut down along the trail. City arbourist staff believe it might be related to a home in the 5600-block of Highfield Drive, which lined up with the damage, but they can't know for sure, said Devlin.
"What happens quite often—well it happens a lot in that area—is homeowners are clearing for view. They take a little bit down at a time."
Devlin said he's even heard rumours that one or two realtors in particular might be suggesting that homeowners do this to raise the value of their properties. They're told that any fines or penalties will be more than offset by the increased sale price of their homes.
"Of course, I can't prove that. When we go out there and our arbourists talk to people this is some of the feedback they're getting from neighbours and people in general."
The challenge for the city arbourists is they have to catch the culprits in the act.
Earlier this year, a neighbour complained about someone stripping trees off city property and actually shot video footage of the person doing it, Devlin said. A police investigation was launched, but unfortunately the video only showed the man cutting the trees after they were already on the ground, and the complainant chose not to testify.
In another instance last year, a trail user reported seeing a bunch of plastic jugs nestled in the crotches of trees with rubber tubing running out of them down into the root system. After confiscating the jugs, parks staff had the contents tested and discovered they were filled with household bleach "which in their hopes was designed to kill the trees," Devlin said. "We haven't had a reoccurrence of that but we are continuing to watch for it."
The incidents have all been along the trail from Penzance Drive to Stratford Avenue. The arbourists occasionally find trees that have been topped about 10 feet off the ground, which they suspect is an effort to improve the views of the homes which sit raised behind the first row of houses which face Burrard Inlet.
The parks department issued a notice about the problem to area residents last January.
The public is being asked to report any vandalism or tree cutting immediately to help parks staff catch people in the act.
"We're ready to go day and night with our park patrol should there be anyone reporting any vandalism. If we do catch someone in the act then there are bylaws and we'd ask the RCMP to investigate and we'd carry on from that point."
Over the past four years, the department has received about a dozen reports of unauthorized tree cutting. The trees in the city-owned conservation lands are of a multitude of varieties. And it's been mainly smaller scrub trees that have been felled although there have been a couple larger ones taken down.
"It's just whatever happens to be in the way," Devlin said.
"It's really tough and we're being as vigilant as we possibly can be. We definitely don't like this. Our arbour-culturalists are very upset about it. They are very emotionally attached to the trees."
The arbourists use Google maps to help create a timeline for the damage and it appears the culprits take down two or three trees, leave it for a while, then take a few more down and so on. "They work their way towards the crest where they can actually get a view of the water."
Devlin said he hopes to start a replanting program for the areas that have been targeted in recent years, and is just about to start the process of getting departmental approval. It would serve both to repair the damage and to deter those responsible.
"The leaflets we've put out there, they know we're watching and they know we're going to check. And new trees, we have to maintain and service for the first year or two so then we're always there on site. This might deter it a bit."
Unlike the unauthorized cutting down of protected trees on private property, there are no set fines for trees taken down illegally on city lands. Instead, such cases are treated as vandalism and if someone is caught, the city would assess the financial value of the removed or damaged trees and the cost of the equipment and labour to replace them and charge it to the person responsible, Devlin said.
Burnaby RCMP is also "prepared to prosecute for public mischief," said the letter that went out to residents.
Devlin stressed that many residents in the affected parts of Capitol Hill are just as upset as the forestry workers about the tree-cutting.
"There's a lot of houses, that have trees right in front of them to the water and they love it. This is only a few individuals [responsible for the incidents] and obviously for financial gain in some cases."
The city's arbourists have dedicated their working lives to keeping Burnaby green, he said.
"And to get this type of thing from a few people that want to make a few dollars, that's very upsetting, it really is."
People who spot illegal tree cutting can report it to 604-294-7200, which is staffed 24 hours a day, or leave a non-emergency message at the city's tree line, 604-297-4500.
Note: The original story had an incorrect phone number. This version has since been corrected.