Sooke's Evergreen Mall Trees Appeared Healthy Once On Ground

Sooke's 150 year old ex-landmark trees appear healthy in
this photo taken by Yari Nielsen, RFT

Sooke council had a special meeting December 8th at which it was decided that the two 150 year old Douglas-fir trees in the centre of town had to come down. About a week later all that remained at the Evergreen Mall site was tree dust, a heavy smell of pitch, and a giant hole in the sky.

The following was posted on the Sooke District website shortly before the trees were removed:

District staff and BC Hydro are working together to remove the two large fir trees in front of Evergreen Mall. The trees, one of which has most notably been decorated with Christmas lights in recent years, will be removed in the week of December 13.

The trees are in need of removal for a combination of reasons. The south side of the “Christmas Tree” will be limbed by BC Hydro in early 2011 to ensure the security of the 3 phase electrical lines installed in 2010. The resultant limbing, combined with the installation of works for recent development on the adjacent property, will cause further decline in the already compromised “Christmas Tree” and adjacent fir tree.

To address the removal, BC Hydro will reduce the tree heights and District contractors will remove the remainder, grind the stumps and clean up the debris. Tree removal will coincide with final landscaping required at the mall as part of the Development Permit issued for the construction of Shopper’s Drug Mart. For more information contact Laura Byrne at lbyrne@sooke.ca.

Considering the heritage value of the trees in question, were these reasons sufficient to take them down? Nowhere in the above notice does it say that the trees were unhealthy or dangerous, and what other reasons would justify removal?

It may be that no one in power was willing to make any compromises to save these majestic giants. They were under appreciated by decision makers, and in the way of developers and "progress". Before any kind of community discussion could be arranged, the trees were gone.

Half way up the trunk - still showing healthy wood, Yari Nielsen

The removal has created some controversy with people weighing in on whether the trees should have been removed or not. Some of the information on the decision to remove them focuses on their apparent ill health. Al Fontes, the district’s manager of operations, was quoted in the Mirror as stating that an assessment “found the trees are dying.”

So were the trees dying? And if they were healthy, what was the real reason the two landmark Douglas-fir trees were removed in such haste, or at all?

Yari Nielsen, of Sooke, was asking questions, too. He is a Registered Forest Technologist, and a certified wildlife/danger tree assessor. Mr. Nielsen wandered up to the town center to check things out, and take a few photographs, on the day the trees came down.

His photographs make it fairly clear that the two trees were healthy. And if that is not enough, that was Mr. Nielsen's professional assessment as well. As he wrote in a letter to the editor at the Sooke News Mirror newspaper, "Not only are both stems completely sound at the base, but half way up as well. I saw no signs of disease (conks or fungus), and the roots appeared to be sound."

More healthy wood, Yari Nielsen
Perhaps this insult to Sooke's natural history will be the impetus for adopting a tree protection bylaw to protect significant trees that are still standing. Heritage Tree Designation could be conferred upon trees that are outstanding in character, size, age, and/or of unusual scientific or historical interest. The two Douglas-fir that were removed recently would have qualified for heritage status on a few counts given this definition.

A tree protection bylaw would engender civic pride and interest in Sooke's trees, and promote their protection. Victoria (as well as many other municipalities in the CRD) has an extensive collection of over 300 inventoried Heritage trees, groups, and areas that are protected from "unnecessary harm or removal".

We should seriously consider saving what makes Sooke's natural and cultural landscape unique and worth visiting. If logging built this town and province, then we should be showing more respect for what got us here - our big trees.


  1. Anonymous31/12/10

    As a certified tree risk assessor, I cannot comment on the tree prior to removal. A visual tree assessment (VTA) would be done. The comments provided by Yari Nielsen appear to be accurate. No sign of any decay present. Once again, cut first, apologize later. Doug Firs can handle severe pruning and still remain viable. They naturally blow their tops out, drop limbs, and still grow to be giants. If this deems them to be compromised, all that I have learned, and know is flawed. Perhaps Dr. Julian Dunster could comment on this topic. In conclusion, they were not in the "final landscaping plan" R.I.P. my friends/

  2. Anonymous3/1/11

    sad and infuriating. sorry to see good trees killed for no good reason. i think i want to live in the trees like the free spirit spheres and plant a forest garden to live in, and just sort of stop using money but instead join local exchanges. and take it easy .. 2 hours work per day or something you know, no debt obligations, just chilling with the neighbors and catching a wild chicken or a pig to bbq together or something.

  3. Anonymous18/5/11

    i love sooke, i was born and raised here and im sad to see it turning into any other place you go. with the same damn shppers drug mart and the same damn a and w and mcdonalds and the same 1000 houses side by side. i want my town pole back, that represented a town i was proud to be a part of. but i cant beat them becasue the name of the game is money. i dont wanna be frustrated anymore so im moving farther up island.

  4. Anon,

    You are right - things around here have been changing fast. Too fast. It is time to vote in leaders that are more balanced in their approach to development before this place turns into just more of the same. Good luck up island - we might be right behind you.

  5. Anyone paying attention to the climate crisis should now understand that there is nothing better we can do than to LEAVE EXISTING TREES STANDING...but of course city councils have better things to do than to be up on this. It's only everybody's greatest emergency of all time. Here's a simple editorial to help with the learning:

  6. All the news and research re. climate change points to the benefits of LEAVING TREES STANDING in urban environments. Should be a no-brainer. Sooke city council should have stepped in. SHAME.


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