Putting a price on the urban forest...
Killing a tree could leave you bankrupt in Saskatoon
Darren Bernhardt, Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, July 10, 2008
If a tree falls in Saskatoon's urban forest, someone's going to pay.
In a bid to protect its trees from developers who consider them nuisances, the city is assigning a monetary value to every tree in its 100,000-plus urban forest.
The value is how much you'll have to pay if you yield to the urge to play lumberjack.
Bringing down one wide and towering American elm on a boulevard in the city's Varsity View will set you back $46,412.
The price per tree is based on factors including age, replacement cost, species, size, location and condition, said Ian Birse, superintendent of urban forestry for the City of Saskatoon.
The city is concerned about trees in older neighbourhoods shrouded by decades-old leafy canopies.
"People choose to live in those areas because of that canopy. I do," said Birse. "But there are those who don't want them around and we're losing some, but we're trying to do what we can to prevent it."
The city has a fight on its hands. Trees are quickly becoming endangered in the rush to capitalize on the economic prosperity that's sweeping through the province.
A development boom has spurred an expansion of roadways, residential areas and businesses in Saskatoon, where the soaring value of real estate continues to push rents and home prices into the stratosphere.
The average price for existing homes is Saskatoon has gone from $160,547 in 2006 to $310,386 this year.
City-owned trees in areas slated for construction have been labelled with bright yellow notices that declare them "protected."
If that's not enough of a deterrent, the city is ready to branch out and take the matter to court.
There are a couple of cases going through legal channels involving people who were found to be boring holes into trees and pouring in herbicide in an attempt to kill off a tree they didn't want around, said Birse.
The city is sensitive about its trees, partly because they didn't come easy. In the early days of this once-barren prairie town, nurseries were established to conduct research and trials as to what types of trees were best suited to the climate.
The result is a lush community teeming with varieties of ash and maple, birch, linden, oak, pine and spruce.
The city also levies a charge against drivers found at fault for a motor-vehicle accident in which a tree is damaged.
Even the hint of a possible construction project will bring out the tree cavalry to tag the timbers.
Recently, Birse's department marked eight elms lined up in an L-shape around a row house located on a corner lot near the trendy Broadway district. The total value of the trees was in the range of $200,000.
"At the time we did this, the information we had was that some kind of construction might happen," Birse said. "We get a little nervous when we hear (the word) 'construction.' We try to be proactive."
Even so, Birse admits not every tree is going to be saved. A financial penalty is only effective if it actually makes an impact on someone's pocketbook.
"For a multi-millionaire, what's $30,000 for a tree to him?" Birse said.
He said the next best deterrent is neighbourhood vigilance.
Birse said he is hoping to enlist all Saskatoon residents as additional sentries, keeping an eye out for any outrages against the city's trees.
"They can be out eyes and ears because we can't be everywhere," he said.
© Saskatoon StarPhoenix 2008