Jim Elliot/Salmon Arm Observer Fallen willow trees that used to overlook the raised walkway near the Prestige Harbourfront Resort on Friday, Aug. 18.

Weeping at willow trees’ demise

Residents point to solutions other than arborists’ recommendations to remove.

What’s done is done, but the grief remains.

The last of the 13 willow trees that lined the public walkway at the Salmon Arm foreshore west of the Prestige Harbourfront Resort have been gone for a few weeks, but they’re still being mourned.

Several people who live in the vicinity have expressed their sadness and anger, while the developer whose property they border, and the city, have gone through all the required steps.

“It’s very sad,” said Pat Mearns. “I guess a lot of people are feeling that. Should the city maybe get second opinions when they get a specialist to look at trees?”

Noting she’s not a tree expert, she says when looking at some of the trunks cut down, the rings were intact and there didn’t appear to be any rot in the middle.

She remembers seeing a plan for the waterfront that linked walkways, showing beautiful trees lining them.

“It seems like there’s no plan at all now,” she says, recalling how people walking would take a break in the shade of the trees. “I think we’re not protecting our special spots.”

In addition to the required Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR) report, a certified arborist’s report, dated more than 10 years ago – June 19, 2006, was provided by the developer. It recommends removal of all the trees. It states the trees underwent visual and physical inspections performed in accordance with ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) standards. Under RAR, the willow trees will be replaced with a combination of larch, pine and maple trees.

The arborist report points out which areas would be targeted should the trees have “branch and/or trunk failure,” such as the sidewalk, the elevated walkway and property of the neighbour to the west.

“All willows have been pruned approximately one year ago to one and a half years ago to create room for the elevated walkway and presumably to remove the dead and hazardous trees and branches. Their pruning was quite drastic and as a result many of the old cuts are not healing over and are future sites for decay and rot. These sites are located, for the most part, on the lower portion of the trees. This fact should be noted as this is where the trees bear the most weight.”

The report also states that “five of the trees had root disturbance during sidewalk construction… Four of the trees have severe damage due to animal activity, where the bark has been chewed off at the base of the tree. This area of the tree is now wounded and is a future site for decays, as the bark will not grow back… Two of the trees have old back fill covering the trunk. This promotes rot at the base of the tree and creates a future hazard… The fact that all the trees are covered in suckers tells us that the trees are stressed from the heavy pruning…”

The report says the Black Willows’ life span is about 80 years, while a historical photo from “Fleeting Images of Salmon Arm” shows them in 1930, where they appear to be about three years old.

“Considering the age of these trees and the fact that all of them are or will become hazardous in the near future, I recommend the removal of all of these trees before proceeding with development,” concludes the report.

A 2015 note from the city arborist concurs, approving the willows’ removal “to mitigate risk to public and property.”

Coun. Alan Harrison, who at a council meeting had pointed to the public’s love for the trees, said he understands how people may be feeling.

“I think my heart would say let’s leave those trees up, but when you look at the objective data, your brain tells you they have to come down and plant some new ones.”

Resident Donna Rasplica has watched the many birds who frequented the willow branches: four golden eagles, some bald eagles, always osprey eating fish daily on favourite branches, and many smaller birds.

“The trees were always noisy with birds; the smaller birds you couldn’t see up there. It’s changed the sound-scape of the area.”

She points out how incredibly valuable the marsh and bay is to the City of Salmon Arm.

“This changes things, it really does. You can’t remove a big part of the ecosystem and expect it to not affect anything else.”

Miranda McLaws agrees.

“Every other, or every third tree could have been removed, we could have respected and protected the marsh…. Many of us are grieving for the wildlife who lived in these giant old and healthy trees — the ones who survived, now have no choice but to find new territory, territory already occupied.”

As does Elizabeth Montgomery.

“Quite honestly, I was devastated,” she says. “I’ve seen tourists who were in awe of those trees. I think they massacred them.”

She thinks there could have been ways to work around those trees with problems.

“I came from California. They don’t go around chopping down those redwoods.”