A local arborist warns that the Assiniboine Park's old trees should be shaking with fear, but the park's stewards assure the public that an exciting new tree canopy will support the park's sustainability for years to come.
Matt Vinet, the director of the prairie chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, said about 150 trees have been removed from Assiniboine Park "with such casualness" since spring in the construction zone for Canada's Diversity Gardens.
Canada's Diversity Gardens is the final major phase of the park's redevelopment campaign, which has been ongoing since 2009. The aim of the garden is to tell the cultural story of the relationships that exist between people and plant life, showcasing Canada's multicultural heritage.
"The park is claiming sustainability but I don't know how hauling out trees on a regular basis is sustainability," said Vinet, who is also a volunteer member of the ISA board and Trees Winnipeg. "A lot of people don't realize, and just assume that the trees that are in the park are being protected. My thing is that trees should feel safe in a park."
Gerald Dieleman, the project director of CDG, acknowledged the trees' removal but said the natural assets of the park are of prime concern.
"Any time that a tree comes down in the park is not a good day for us. It always is sad when a tree comes down, and I feel that way as well," Dieleman said. "The result in this case is these trees do need to come down to accommodate the project but on the flip side, we have retained quite a few trees and not impacted them in the development. That's the part you don't hear about when we talk about this project. You hear about the ones coming down. You don't hear about the ones being saved."
Dieleman said 1,680 trees have been preserved in the CDG project's area and at least 600 new trees will be planted.
"The plant material coming in will be quite diverse," he said. "It will be both herbaceous, which is your garden plant material, and woody material, which is the trees and shrubs. By adding these new trees, I feel it's something that will connect people and the park and the place together. It's setting the park up for the next few generations."
The park's redevelopment campaign has already included the Heart of the Park, which featured the Nature Playground, Riley Family Duck Pond and the Qualico Family Centre, and the Zoo renewal which featured the Journey to Churchill exhibit and the Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.
"I'm not trying to slap the hands of people that are trying to do good things in the park," Vinet said. "Fundamentally, it comes down to that people should ask the question, should we be removing trees from a park? Isn't this where trees go to be safe? Of all places, trees should be preserved in a park."
Dieleman said the CDG's new parking lot, east of the existing conservatory, is being built around the trees that are already there.
"There's been a lot of development in the park over the last 10 years," Dieleman said. "Basically, it's a reshaping, reframing of the park for the next 50 to 100 years and that is the approach we're taking. We're not trying to be reckless or careless in these efforts. We have to make decisions and move forward in ways where we can still celebrate the natural aspects of the park but still accommodate the heavier use."
Vinet said the Assiniboine Park needs to be accountable for the trees being removed and not be championed as a model of sustainability.
"People should stand up. The best way to effect change is to make it known in the public. There should be a moratorium on tree removal, especially the big old trees. They are truly treasures." " Vinet said.
The city did not make a forester available for comment.