A long-time University of B.C. employee says the campus is being clear-cut of trees and no one is being held accountable because the institution is self-governed.
The trees were cut down this week to make way for a new Student Union Building being built by the Alma Mater Society. The university obtained a permit before axing the trees.
Chris Sherwood, who’s worked at UBC for 30 years as a lab manager, was heartbroken to see flowering cherry, elm and decades-old poplar trees cut down around the SUB. On Wednesday afternoon, a commemorative plaque and a stump were all that remained of a magnolia tree planted by students in 1985.
“The loss of those trees means a loss of bird habitat,” said Sherwood. “It’s all part of the enormous construction cycle taking place at UBC, but there’s nothing anyone can do because the developer and regulator are the same.”
Sherwood said the loss of the trees is another example of the ongoing deforestation of the university, which he says began with the construction of the Hampton Place market housing development completed in 1989, prior to the approval of UBC’s official community or land-use plan in 1997.
“Where Hampton Place is now there used to be a beautiful forest, but then it became a field of stumps after they cut down the trees in the middle of the night,” said Sherwood. “This time, they did the work during the day, but I think that’s because the semester is over and there aren’t as many students around.”
In February, Metro Vancouver announced it would canvass UBC residents about the university’s governance because they might not be aware of the implications of such rapid growth.
The former Greater Vancouver Regional District was in charge of decisions regarding land use at UBC until June 2010, when the provincial government introduced legislation to separate the two.
Sherwood said that decision has given the UBC Board of Governors carte blanche to develop every inch of available land at the university.
Joe Stott, UBC’s director of campus and community planning, denied the accusation and added the process and permits needed to axe the trees are the same as what’s required in the City of Vancouver.
Stott granted permission to cut the trees after receiving direction from the UBC Board of Governors, which approves institutional development projects in four stages.
“It’s the same process used in Vancouver or any other municipality,” said Stott. “The fact is, we cannot build the new Student Union Building without clearing the site, which includes several trees.”
Sherwood links the ongoing construction of expensive houses and condos on the UBC campus to the foreign student market.
“They mean big bucks to UBC,” said Sherwood. “And it makes those market-rate houses out of reach for most people.”
Sherwood said the board of governors ruling UBC is also greenwashing the ongoing housing construction by offering environmentally friendly features.
“But it doesn’t matter how energy efficient a building is if every centimetre of land is covered,” said Sherwood.
Stott, who could not say how many trees were cut down this week, added the landscape design authorized by the development permit incorporates the grassy mound and some trees. He noted two mature heritage trees on University Boulevard are being protected and more than 50 new trees have been planted in the street’s median.
“Trees are an important part of the UBC landscape,” said Stott.