The Garry oak tree in Margaret Thompson's front yard typically prospers in the summer, with a full, leafy canopy that blooms in the spring providing ample shade for her Wellsview Road home in Cordova Bay.
But this year the tree is patchy – mostly brown – with the majority of the leaves that remain hanging dead and dry.
"This spring the tree started to leaf as usual, and one side of it was in full leaf but the other side got to the bud stage and then it sort of froze and nothing materialized," Thompson says. "It was bare on one side and kind of leafy on the other. And then very quickly the leafy side started to turn brown and die, and a good portion of the tree now is brown and dead."
Fearing the tree may have succumbed to sudden oak death, Thompson contacted a Saanich arborist in late June to determine what happened. The arborist, however, found evidence that somebody had tampered with the tree.
"Doing his visual inspection, our arborist looked at the base of the tree and noted there was five holes dug into the trunk and backfilled with dirt," said Cory Manton, Saanich's manager of urban forestry and natural areas. "We can't unequivocally say what killed the tree, but I think we're putting two and two together, with holes and die-off."
Thompson and Manton suspect the tree was poisoned – possibly injected with a herbicide.
"It paints a negative view of the neighbourhood. It's unnerving to think that somebody's creeping around and doing this. And I'm just really sad that somebody had so little regard for living things they will wantonly destroy a living entity," Thompson said. "I'm outraged."
Saanich police Sgt. Steve Eassie says investigators followed up on information Thompson provided and spoke to a potential suspect, but no further action will be taken.
"The unfortunate thing is it's extremely difficult to prove who would be responsible unless there was some evidence we would be able to get," he said, but suggested that Thompson could pursue a civil suit against the person she believes is responsible. "With the balance of probabilities, I would think she stands a pretty good chance from a civil standpoint."
Manton says it's only speculation that the tree was poisoned, but holes were bored into the trunk and then refilled with dirt.
"I don't want to speculate, but it certainly would be concerning if you found out it was some sort of poison," he said. "I'd be concerned that people would go to that extent."
Thompson is convinced, however, that the tree was purposefully killed. A sign displayed on her lawn reads: "This oak tree is not diseased. It has been deliberately poisoned."
She will now look at getting the dead tree removed from her property, though she contemplated leaving "the skeleton tree standing as a perpetual reproach" to the person who killed the tree.
"This is what I would like to say to the author of this mischief … what you did to the tree was despicable," Thompson begins. "Here you are, right on my doorstep, slaughtering a tree that, for all its strengths, is defenceless against your malice. What happens the next time something, or someone, gets in your way? … You are poison."