A pair of old trees in Fort Langley came tumbling down this weekend, drawing mixed reaction.
Two Sitka spruce that were growing in front of the former Birthplace of B.C. Gallery, at Francis Avenue and Glover Road, were brought down, and the man responsible for cutting them down is none other than former Langley Township mayor Kurt Alberts – a man who has also helped preserve and recognize a number of heritage trees along that same boulevard in recent years.
Alberts had to have the 120-foot-tall trees taken down, he explained, noting they were planted some years after Dr. Benjamin Marr planted 17 horse chestnut and seven western red cedars along the same section of Glover Road in 1921.
“Because of the size to which they grow, Sitka spruce are not recommended for yard landscaping unless you have acreage,” Alberts explained to the Langley Advance Times.
Removal was started at the beginning of February, but the actual dropping of the trees was completed Friday.
“My desire is to remain on the property for as long as possible, so I continue to manage the property as best I can, including planting and removal of trees,” he said.
“My first task will be to repair the damage caused by the trees, then I will see where best to plant something suitable in the right location on the property – but it won’t be Sitka spruce,” Albert insisted.
But his actions have raised the ire of a few from Fort Langley, John Payne among them who calls the tree removal a “travesty.”
“I’m no horticulturalist, but judging from the quality of all cut ends of the trees, I didn’t see disease or rot internally,” Payne said, sharing pictures of the downed trees.
Albert confirmed they were not diseased, but needed to come down.
“Sitka spruce, growing to 300 feet, is the third tallest conifer species after coast Redwood and Douglas fir. The two trees with their massive root systems in my front yard had outgrown their location,” he said.
Removal of the trees, across the street from of the Fort Langley Cemetery, also garnered the attention of Lenora Zanusso.
“I know there are condos being built there, but this is just wrong to have taken them down like that unless they were diseased?” she said.
Payne said he “confronted” Alberts, “who told me he’d been watching the trees for the last two years and they had become stressed so, as I see it, felt he was ending their suffering and had them cut down,” Payne said.
“Fort Langley’s ambiance is synonymous with mature, beautiful healthy tree’s being part of the panorama here,” elaborated the upset villager.
“I do understand there may be problem trees that require removal as they may interfere with septic fields and power lines, etc. But these two heritage trees were victims of what I suspect as alternative motivation,” Payne said, questions the reason for their removal.
“I believe they were possibly cut down for commercial reasons as they appeared to be in prime condition. Interestingly enough there is a large residential development now enjoying an expansive view and sunlight behind where the tree’s once stood.”
While Payne and Zanusso are upset about the tree removal, Alberts said he’s been receiving “largely” sympathetic responses from people.
“Most people know how much I loved those trees and many have had to deal with similar issues in managing their own properties,” Alberts shared.
He has been the driving force behind the creation of a Memory Grove of 30 heritage trees next to Bedford Landing planted in legacy to Marr and his efforts 100 years ago to beautify his community by planting trees along this strip of the village.
Asked if he was expecting backlash from some fellow villagers, Alberts said: “I think removal of trees is always a sensitive matter, and that is why I held off for as long as I could.”
Payne calls for the Township to implement a bylaw requiring permits to remove trees on non-commercial property anywhere in the Township.
Right now, the only area in the Township with a tree cutting bylaw is Brookswood.
The 2017 bylaw allows property owners to cut down between two and four trees per year, depending on the size of their property.
Tree protection was a major issue during the creation of the revised Brookswood Official Community Plan, before its approval in 2017.
However, the Township council has not yet placed a tree protection bylaw on other areas of the Township. Various proposals have been discussed at the council table over the years.
The current mayor, Jack Froese, is a Fort Langley resident. He could not yet be reached for comment.