As people react to the recent intentional destruction of 20 endangered Garry Oaks, whose “cut short” existence once provided valuable green infrastructure services like erosion protection and rainwater balance – let’s look beyond blame and seize this moment to give thanks and better protection to all the remaining trees that are the sentinels of this valley.
Spring naturally reminds us of nature’s incredible productivity, the gifts of healthy land and the amazing green life-force that renews itself each year. Nature is our greatest asset and ally. Let’s act like it.
Natural capital regenerates and increases over time, unlike much of the grey infrastructure we build, which depreciates and must be replaced at significant upkeep cost. Nature gives more benefits as it grows, yet we too often chop it down first and pass unintended costs – like flood damage, worse droughts, respiratory problems and dirty drinking water – onto others.
It’s not like the Garry Oak incident was caused by a rogue element. To the contrary, one way or another, trees are slated for destruction, clearing and rezoning all across this valley without systematic attention to the long term consequences and immediate losses, not least of which are economic.
It’s high time municipalities value our ecological assets like sensitive habitat, watersheds, wetlands and intact forests on the accounting books, or these assets will continue to be drained and mismanaged. But this depends on citizen-stewards fighting and speaking for the massive value of “free” ecosystem services.
Trees deserve the same status as other critical municipal infrastructure.
Even TimberWest, the region’s largest landowner, calls nature “our Golden Goose. If we are good stewards…the natural result is not only the economic wealth (golden eggs) generated in perpetuity…but all the other watershed and community values our Golden Goose will provide”.
Beyond board feet and stump fees, actual living trees give us improved quality of life, measurable health and property benefits, cleaner air and water, more bountiful soils and wildlife, as well as inspiration, tourism, art, food, healing and a common purpose. All environmental woes begin to improve when we respect trees.
Trees are the lynchpin for healthier carbon, air and water balance and help reduce pollution. Trees add needed resiliency to our land, lives and local economy.
From climate change, local food and water advocates, to new groups formed to protect diminishing air quality, we should all make trees and sensitive habitats a top priority, as well as restoration. Revitalizing our properties, and strategic revival of degraded lands, is one of the smartest investments in a community’s future. The dividends are priceless when fully measured, and returns on the initial investment increase for generations without further deposit.
Within municipalities and across the province, an irreplaceable stock of “green infrastructure” is waiting to be embraced, championed and renewed by all.
The Gary Oak incident exposes the inadequacy of poorly understood, little respected and possibly currently unenforceable tree bylaws alone. Unless we evolve beyond the mindset of “it’s my property, I can do what I want”, we’re stuck. We need more than technical backstops, bureaucratic tools and rearguard fines.
Humans are a political animal, it’s true. We’re inhabitants of a valley, and though we reside in buildings connected by roads, all together we inhabit a natural habitat connected by watercourses and green spaces that are alive, that we depend on. We all must take pride in connecting our properties to the bigger living picture.