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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATED: Traffic flowing normally after morning crash on Douglas Street

Traffic at the Douglas and Finlayson streets intersection was temporarily impacted

PHOTOS: Families, spectators wave goodbye to Navy Task Force from Victoria shorelines

HCMS Winnipeg and HCMS Regina sailing to Hawaiian training exercise, further deployments

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Aug. 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Should it be mandatory to wear masks when out in public?

B.C. is witnessing an alarming rise in the number of cases of… Continue reading

B.C. wildfire crews have battled 111 blazes in the last seven days

Twenty-nine fires remain active, as of Friday (Aug 7)

‘We don’t make the rules’: Okanagan pub owner says staff harassed over pandemic precautions

‘If you have six people plus a baby, guess what? That’s seven’ - West Kelowna Kelly O’Bryan’s owner

Remembering Brent Carver: A legend of Broadway who kept his B.C. roots strong

Over the years, the Cranbrook thespian earned his place as one of Canada’s greatest actors

Statistics Canada says country gained 419,000 jobs in July

National unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July, down from the 12.3 per cent recorded in June

Canada plans $3.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. in aluminium dispute

The new Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement that replaced NAFTA went into force on July 1

Canada ‘profoundly concerned’ over China death sentence for citizen in drug case

Police later confiscated more than 120 kilograms of the drug from Xu Weihong’s home

Most Read