The city will remove a decades-old maple tree from Veterans Memorial Park this spring after determining it poses a safety risk and cannot be saved.
The tree, a Manitoba Maple that is estimated to be more than 75-years-old, was identified last year through the city’s tree inventory process as being in poor shape. It was assessed several times over the course of the year.
“Once it was identified through our tree inventory we actually monitored and assessed the tree three different times in the past year to see if there was any changes,” said Mihali Schindle, Urban Forestry and Naturalization Coordinator with the city’s Parks and Rec division.
“We first noticed the tree’s condition around May…it’s hard to see everything that’s going on with some of the leaves still on the branches, so in fall and winter when we assessed it again we were able to see there is quite a bit of damage throughout the entire canopy.”
Trees are critical infrastructure and provide services to citizens.
Schindle says trees embellish and improve other infrastructure by providing shade, cooling, and managing stormwater.
“Trees have a lifecycle just like all other infrastructure, including roads and buildings, which must be maintained or replaced over time. However, trees are unique because they are living infrastructure that require special attention and care. They take years to reach their full potential, but how we manage our trees will create a safe and sustainable environment for citizens and future generations.”
Structurally damaged and posing a threat to public safety
The city doesn’t take removing a tree lightly and does all it can to keep older trees in place. The city follows International Society of Arboriculture assessment parameters and methodologies, the national standard for tree care, maintenance and assessments, along with monitoring tree condition over time as part of the city’s street tree inventory.
The city’s Street Tree Policy states that street trees will not be removed without just cause. It also states that structurally damaged trees posing a threat to public safety require emergency removal.
In the case of the Manitoba Maple, trunk decay, branch dieback, tree age, wind load on weak branches and environmental factors were the primary concerns.
The condition of the tree, likelihood of structural failure, and proximity to park visitors makes it a safety concern.
“The primary risk associated with this tree is that benches and walkways are within the target zone should the main trunk break and fall,” Schindle said.
“The closer a weak or diseased tree is to infrastructure or pedestrians, the higher the risk. In this case, the likelihood of the tree structure failing is high. The main branches are dying or have already broken off.”
During the reconstruction of Eveline Street, the city went to great lengths to save an approximately 100-year-old Elm tree located along the street near the Royal Canadian Legion. The tree was in the construction zone and it certainly would have been easier for the city to remove it – instead the city changed its development plan to accommodate the tree’s trunk and root zone.
“That tree is in far better health and it’s a species, American Elm, that’s structurally much stronger,” Schindle said.
“Although it’s old it’s still in really great condition so we weren’t going to cut it down. It’s providing a great service to this community.”
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with the Veterans Park tree. Schindle says the tree is “exceptionally old” for a Manitoba Maple at 75-plus years of age, and that is especially old for a tree in an urban environment.
The urban heat island effect – whereby the density of a city and the presence of concrete increases the temperature – impacts trees and can reduce their lifespan. Though Selkirk trees wouldn’t be impacted as much as larger urban centres, it still plays a role. And Schindle says climate change also can negatively impact the lifespan of a tree.
“Climate change also affects the health and longevity of trees in urban environments due to extreme weather events and increased temperatures,” he said.
The city’s goal is to have a healthy and diverse urban forest, and replacing the Manitoba Maple is a priority.
“We’re working on a plan right now to offset the loss of that tree,” Schindle said.
“It’s the centrepiece of that park and it’s provided a lot of shade and environmental benefits over the years.”
Schindle said the replacement tree won’t likely be another Manitoba Maple. Though they are known for growing tall and wide, they’re also known for being weak-wooded and succumbing to rot later in life, much like this tree has.
The tree is expected to be removed this spring, and a plan for replacing the tree is being established. Schindle says ideally, the city would like a mature tree, that has been cared for and pruned for at least two or three years, so it has the optimal structure and health when transplanted.