Vancouver Park Board... cut down those trees!

When forestry specialist Bill Stephen joined the Vancouver Park Board staff back in 1991, he realized the board had made a huge mistake. When the city’s urban forest strategy was in its infancy a decade earlier, they planted some 12,000 Linden trees on Vancouver streets and in its parks.

They had no idea the variety they planted (Tilia Euchlora) was notorious for attracting massive numbers of aphids from May through August.

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Also worth noting: The drier the weather, the more abundant the aphids. These aphids exude a sticky liquid called “honeydew,” which rains down on pavement, parked cars, lawn furniture, patios, laundry out to dry and plants. If there is a breeze, it will blow through open windows.

Cars and other inanimate objects require regular washing. Honeydew-coated plants, both annuals and perennials, eventually die. The liquid falling on leaves or blossoms shed by the trees causes them to stick to anything they touch, including your shoes.

The insects and their droppings also attract a large number of wasps, which regularly sting kids.

The honeydew also promotes the growth of a black sooty mould, which can trigger allergies and asthmatic attacks. I refer you to page 341 of Volume 9, Number 5, of the 2008 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology.  

Realizing the problems created by Linden trees, the park board stopped planting them and that’s been the case for the past 16 years.

But, you may well ask, did the park board staff, in realizing the error of their ways, recommend the removal of those troublesome trees? Nope.

Citizens complained to their elected officials, including a Mrs. Movana Ramar with respect to nuisance trees at 46th Avenue and St. George Street, according to the board’s December 2010 minutes. Did that move them to take those trees down? Nope.

At this point in the city’s history and its “greenest city strategy,” promoted by Mayor Gregor Robertson, removing a city tree required more effort than gaining dispensation from the Pope.

Staff told the board they were spraying insecticide (soapy water) and dispatching buckets of ladybugs to try and control the aphid infestation. And did that do the trick? Not really.

The irony, of course, is while the board tenaciously held on to these troublesome trees, the urban canopy was being devastated with the full blessing of the city.

As my colleague, Mike Howell, reported in March, the number of trees removed on private property between 1995 and 2013 would be enough to cover an area the same size as Stanley Park.

Other citizens plagued by the admitted “serious mistake” of Linden trees planted on their boulevard were given short shrift.

That includes Jennifer Aarestad and her neighbour Lyz Sayer, both residents on the 800-block of West 15th Avenue. Along with the majority of homeowners on their block, they have been attempting to lobby both the park board and the city for the past five years to have the Linden trees in front of their houses removed.

Their houses are on short lots, which make their front yards effectively their back yards, and their front yards are in the line of fire of all those Linden trees and those goop-deploying, plant-destroying, car-coating, sooty mould-promoting  aphids making their lives miserable.

They put together a slide show and invited park board officials to attend a meeting at VanDusen Gardens. Officials came, but there was no real resolution. They asked for a meeting with the mayor. They were refused. They offered to pay whatever it would cost to remove the Linden trees and replace them with a more compatible tree. Nothing.

Then on Tuesday morning, following an inquiry from the Courier to park board commissioner John Coupar, including the fact that this was a ridiculous situation and allowing it to persist would be exposed, I got a call from park board manager Malcolm Bromley.

Bromley assured me a meeting will be held for the residents of that blighted block within the month. Then the offer will be made to take down and replace the Lindens in two stages, with every second tree going first, including the trees in front of the Aarestad and Sayer homes. And the park board will pick up the bill.

Thank you very much. It couldn’t happen soon enough.


Note: This story has been corrected since it was first posted due to an editing error.

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