Russell’s battered silver maple a poster child for preserving tree cover

Tom Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

RUSSELL — Located on a municipal easement across from the local Legion branch, a 40-50-year-old problematic silver maple is gaining support from residents who want it spared although a majority of Russell Township council is leaning towards removal.

“You may say it’s only one tree but our canopy is decreasing rather than increasing as it should be,” long-time resident Anne Schibli told council in an email. “Bird counts are down by two-thirds globally. They need all the help they can get.”

The tall, multi-limbed tree is similar to dozens of other silver maples throughout the village which Schibli recalls were part of a municipal tree giveaway in the 1980s. She has two of them and township Councillor Cindy Saucier has one in her yard. Saucier wants to preserve the Legion Lane maple: “If we start taking down every silver maple in the village, we will lose many trees. While it may not be a highly desirable tree, it still provides sap for maple syrup, shade in the summer, colour in the fall, oxygen, purifies the air and water, is a home for birds and squirrels, and is pleasing to the eye and streetscape.”

Saucier wants to keep the threatened tree on grounds it isn’t about to fall and “isn’t doing any harm.” Hydro has no issue with its branches interfering with wires, and it’s the only mature tree on the street.

Mayor Pierre Leroux said he too wants to preserve the “beautiful tree” but he must take into account the potential threat to municipal infrastructure and to the safety of residents along with environmental desirability.

“I’m not an arborist,” he noted, indicating he’ll rely on the assessment of professionals when ruling on the fate of the tree. “I can’t decide based on assumptions and speculation.”
The high-profile silver maple got hacked up at the base recently during construction of a new driveway. A long-time environmental activist on many fronts including ceasing random tree removal, Saucier got professional opinions on the stability of the maple which added up to a hesitant “it can be saved”.
One professional observed that silver maples are “famous for being hazardous” but perhaps this one would benefit from serious trimming. Often faulted for over-cutting, Hydro technicians in this case also felt a trimming would do the trick.

Area arborist Marcel Beauchamp went into more detail, citing root damage which could result in loss of limbs although the species is “quite capable of recovering from such injuries”. There are some hollow sections “but not enough to compromise the structural integrity of the tree.” Removal of the two lowest branches could be a possible solution.

Then Saucier got the backing of Anne and husband Paul Schibli who wrote a letter expressing alarm about the ill effects of shrinking tree cover.

The Schiblis have noticed a resulting decline in forest and water creatures such as frogs, toads and turtles. Riparian cover along the Castor River which bisects Russell Village is one of the lowest in the watershed according to South Nation Conservation research, they underlined.

In terms of widespread clear-cutting, the Schiblis maintain farmers wishing to expand croplands should be “recompensed” by the province to preserve woodlots.

“We feel our municipality could do more in this age of climate change especially where municipally-owned lands are involved. We were disturbed to hear a mature tree on municipal property is slated for the axe.”

While they’ve accepted that the tree might have to come down if deemed to be hazardous, the Schiblis urged council to have it assessed by a certified arborist and, if it’s deemed to be sound, use it as a teaching opportunity as to the value of mature trees. If this particular tree must be removed, then replace it with an appropriate native species.

Saucier also noted that consultants for a proposed Heritage District in the village core have recommended preserving mature trees, a concept which is also part of the Township Official Plan, Strategic Plan, Community Improvement Plan, and a new urban tree bylaw being developed.

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