EDITORIAL: Surrey is growing; trees, not so much

Residents are regularly – and rightfully – rankled when they see trees cut down en masse.

Surrey has long been faced with choosing between a clearcut and a hard place when it comes to development in the city.

Despite a tree-preservation bylaw enacted a decade ago, the number of large trees cut down has steadily risen over the years.

This isn’t surprising given Surrey’s demographics: a rapidly growing regional centre, a population top-heavy with young families, and a burgeoning real estate market that shows no signs of slowing.

In 2015, Surrey recorded more than $1 billion worth of residential construction – the second-highest value in the city’s history. The projects were equally split between single-family dwellings, houses with secondary suites and townhomes, and condos.

So it should come as no shock that 2015 was also the year the city recorded a 28-per-cent increase over 2014 in the number of trees cut down.

More than 8,500 bylaw-sized trees (30 centimetres in diameter at breast height) fell to the axe in 2015 – an  increase of 1,848 large trees cut down in 2014.

The average annual cut of bylaw-sized trees over the last 12 years amounts to 7,850, so by comparison, 2015 was not a good year for friends of the forest.

But here’s the rub: How to accommodate more people without wandering into the woods?

Residents are regularly – and rightfully – rankled when they see trees cut down en masse, particularly from one of the many unassuming pockets of green space dotted throughout the city.

North Surrey senior Raymond Griffith was recently angered by the razing of huge trees near his home as part of a city sewer project.

“Was it really necessary to remove all those big, beautiful cedar trees?” he wondered.

It’s a valid question. While trees such as cottonwood or alder – often referred to by council and staff as “scrub” trees – usually must come down because they don’t survive development well, it’s harder to explain the need to get rid of the city’s gentle giants.

Does Surrey and the rest of Metro Vancouver need more housing? Yes. Can officials make environmentally smart decisions that better protect and/or replace existing trees? They must. It’s the only way to ensure all those new homes are worth living in.


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