Countless oaks, elms vanish in Assiniboine Park conversion

Irreplaceable old trees are being replaced by new ‘attractions’: hundreds of old elms for the zoo and parking, 150 mature trees for the Diversity Gardens, many bur oaks for the 10,000-square-foot Qualico Family Centre.

By Matt Vinet

Despite its stated good intentions, Assiniboine Park is in my view being anything but sustainable when it comes to the park’s trees. Particularly the mature, irreplaceable ones.

A recent development project, The Diversity Gardens, is looking at removing 150 “mature trees” to accommodate this new attraction. Add to this these recent development projects – I don’t have exact numbers, but I’m sure Assiniboine Park can provide them:

  • A parking lot development for the zoo. Hundreds of old elms, some irreplaceable, were removed – many of them original to the park;
  • Recent zoo development. I can’t even guesstimate this one;
  • Qualico Centre. Many original bur oaks removed;
  • The Hummocks development and children’s adventure park playground. Again, I don’t know how many but a significant number of mature trees were removed for development. In the Hummocks, very large bur oaks that remained were damaged by construction (root loss, compaction) and were buried by new soil and sod. They are all clearly dying, and the resulting drainage has made a swamp that is killing neighbouring trees.

Not only were these irreplaceable trees removed, but the footprint from development continues to kill trees for many years. Add to this the irregular drainage patterns being created by all this development that is also killing trees year after year.

Anyone who thinks this is sustainable is looking at a park in the wrong sense. I wonder if the park keeps records and could tell us just how many big trees they’ve removed since the recent development got underway. In individual cases, perhaps, tree removal may seem justified, but looked at collectively this should be alarming to everyone.

No other city park in Winnipeg removes its mature trees on such a regular basis to make way for development. This practice is certainly not sustainable. Although the park may plant trees to replace them, mature, 100-year-plus elms and oaks are irreplaceable; removing them on such a regular basis is criminal.

Recycling the trees into furniture also does not make this sustainable. Parks are supposed to be stewards and protecting their trees, not removing them to make way for “attractions”.

Can’t a park be a park? Does it need all these “attractions” to convince people to come? I don’t think so. Perhaps the attractions are valuable, but do they have to be at the cost of something irreplaceable? I think at the very least, Assiniboine Park should be accountable for all the trees it has removed, instead of being championed as the model of sustainability.

The citizens of Winnipeg should be made aware of this slow erosion of the mature canopy there, and should perhaps have a say in any future “development”. I think if more people were aware, development could slow or stop.

Matt Vinet is a leading Winnipeg arborist.

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