Some people hug them. Some senior citizens will defend them holding an axe, or facing authorities wearing only a don't-touch-this glare and their pyjamas. Others cherish them like historical, living relics.
In Winnipeg, everyday folks will go to extraordinary measures to save their trees.
In 1957, for example, city planners had targeted a giant triple-trunked elm in Wolseley as a traffic hazard. They didn't count on a Mrs. Wolfram and Mrs. McCord, who confronted city police along with about a dozen other women. When a city employee approached the tree with a buzz saw, an elderly grandmother holding an axe shouted, "We don't think you should do this!"
Flash forward over a half-century, early April, when a 76-year-old woman -- barefoot and in her bathrobe -- spotted city workers digging a hole near a 25-metre elm in front of her West Kildonan home.
"Get the hell out of here!," yelled Patricia Kuzak, who later told the Free Press about the tale. "You can bulldoze the house but you can't take a tree."
So history records there is a passion for trees with roots as deep as the elms and cottonwoods and oaks themselves, which means Monday brought good news for Manitoba's tree huggers.
Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh introduced legislation that would create a provincial heritage-tree program to recognize and protect trees that have environmental, cultural, social and historic importance.
Or, in Mackintosh's words, "the remarkable monuments to nature's bounty."
"These trees all tell stories," he added. "And now we want those stories better heard."
Mackintosh said the heritage-tree program, created through the first-of-its-kind-in-Canada legislation, will bring additional protection measures for designated heritage trees on private and Crown land to prevent their removal for reasons other than health or safety. The designation process will consider any landowner's concerns before a tree receives heritage-tree status.
The program will run in partnership with the Manitoba Forestry Association, which has run its own heritage-tree program since the early 1980s and is based on a recommendation from Rivers West -- Red River Corridor Inc., a group that promotes the Red River from Emerson to Lake Winnipeg for tourism.
Winnipeg tree experts believe the relationship between humans and trees forms on many levels: sentimentality, history and conservation among them.
"The trees are living," said Ken Fosty, a former employee of the Manitoba Forestry Association. "They're part of the landscape, and they defend themselves against nature, the floods and winters, the storms. And they provide oxygen. How important is that?"
Michael Allen, of Viburnum Tree Experts, added protecting trees is now part of almost every municipal government's job. "It's like making sure our churches and synagogues and mosques are viable as institutions," Allen noted. "Trees are right up there. There's a passion for trees. There's not a lot of things out there in our life that people will take a stand for."
Trees are one. Ask Mr. Wolfram, Mrs. McCord and Mrs. Kuzak.
Mackintosh said at the heart of heritage-tree program is to teach Manitobans the importance of nature.
The province will create an online registry with some designated trees to get plaques. The program will also private sponsors to help offset the cost. All potentially significant trees could be considered for nomination and a plaque.
"We have to make sure people aren't hammering plaques into these great trees," Mackintosh said.
Manitoba Forestry Association executive director Patricia Pohrebniuk said the province's involvement in keeping an inventory of trees will help keep a better track of significant trees in the province.
Pohrebniuk said the association will do a lot of the groundwork to verify nominated trees.
She said there are 200 trees already on its database, although up to 50 of them have been lost to disease, flooding and being cut down.
"There are so many more out there that have yet to be recognized," she added.
"The success of our program has confirmed that Manitobans truly do love and appreciate their trees," she said. "While we were able to provide acknowledgement as part of a program, we were never able to take that next step... that next step being protection."
The rules on cutting
THE heritage-tree amendment provides protection for designated trees on Crown land in the form that the Manitoba government will not allow their authorized removal. Crown timber authorizations are dealt with under the Forest Act, which makes it an offence to cut down Crown timber without authorization. Therefore, it would be an offence to remove a heritage tree on Crown property without a timber-cutting authority. Penalties under the Forest Act has first-offence fines for individuals up to $50,000 and corporations up to $250,000.
Trees on municipal lands would be the responsibility of the municipality to protect and enforce.