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Felling of rare acacia trees leaves Westmount residents divided – Montreal

Residents who live near Westmount’s King George Park are left bitterly divided over the city’s five-year action plan to manage the felling and cultivation of trees in the park.

This fall, the city cut down 30 acacia trees that had been in the park for decades. Mayor Christina Smith says the city awarded a public-tender contract to forestry experts Trame-Vert, who are assisting the city with their park project plan.

The firm’s experts deemed the trees diseased, dead, or in danger of losing branches and injuring passersby. Another 60 are slated to be cut down.

“What would happen if a tree fell and hurt someone and I knew that there was a structural issue on a tree and it hurt a child,” Smith said. “If I did not act because a resident asked me not to take down that tree, that is not good governance….Based on expert advice these trees had to come down.”

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The grove of trees in the park are considered rare, as acacias, or black locusts, don’t often grow north of the Appalachians. But the trees are deemed an invasive species, and often destroy other plants and trees in the area.

Some residents, though, are questioning if the trees really had to come down, and the city’s long term vision for the park.

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“The neighbourhood, everyone here is very very attached to those trees, and they really make the park because they are so unusual,” said philanthropist and prominent Montrealer Stephen Jarislowsky.

Jarislowsky has lived near the park for 50 years. He hired his own team of arborists to study the trees that were slated for the ax, and he was told the trees were healthy.

“Why destroy them? We took advice from the best authorities. Everyone agreed these trees aren’t dead,” Jarislowsky said.

Jarislowsky points to three trees surrounding the park’s playground that were deemed dead. The city cut off all their branches, and hired a sculptor to carve faces in the dead trees.

Over the last few months, branches and leaves have sprouted from the tops of the tree stumps.

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“They regenerate themselves really easily. (The City) even cut down some over there which they pronounced dead, and in no time they started to sprout again. That is how dead they were,” he said.

Smith says Westmount is home to around 8,000 public trees. Each year, the city has to fell about 80 trees as general maintenance.

She said many of the acacias in King George Park were in bad shape, and required extensive pruning. In place of the 30 tree cut down in the park, the city replanted 60 other trees. Most were species other than acacias.

The tree is considered an invasive species, and Montreal’s Agglomeration Council won’t allow it to be planted in protected areas like Mount Royal and Westmount’s Summit Woods.

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While the city is permitted to replant acacias in King George Park, Smith says experts advised against the replanting of just that tree for biodiversity reasons.

“Today’s experts will tell you not to have a monolith,  just planting one type of tree,” Smith said. “If you get an outbreak of bugs or insects that can kill one species of tree, then all your trees will be attacked. Science shows that having a more diverse canopy is the better way to go.”

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Some high-profile residents have been outspoken on the tree issue. Former McGill architect Derek Drummond is one of them.

“There is so much concern for the built environment (in Westmount), but the park does not get the same attention,” Drummond says.

He said he knows nothing about the health of trees, and believes the city hired the right experts to determine whether they needed to be cut down or not.

But he worries about the long-term vision the city has for the park.

“It does not appear to me… that they are getting the proper advice from landscape architects. They are perhaps getting good advice from the tree people….They are doing some damage to first of all the historical nature of the park.”

Smith said the city used both its own landscape architect and an external one to consult on the design for replanting.

More trees are slated to be cut next spring.

Click to play video: 'Quebecer plants 23K trees in 24 hours in new world record'

Quebecer plants 23K trees in 24 hours in new world record

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