Trees on public land are cut down for a number of reasons. They may be deemed unsafe and a public risk, it may be that they are damaging infrastructure such as roads or pavements or it may be that they are positioned exactly where someone wants to build their driveway. In my time on Council other reasons have included requests from the public to destroy trees due to leaf litter, bird noise and the shading of solar panels.
As can be seen from the policies which I had when I ran for council three years ago, trees were not a priority of mine, in fact they didn’t even rate a mention. But over the last few years something has changed, probably through education, and I understand the vital importance of trees. So much so that I now look back on some of the tree agenda items with a certain amount of shame over how I voted.
I now get upset when mature tree are cut down and I have been reflecting on why this happens so many times all over the State, and in fact the country. The other day I saw a facebook post from the Re Store in Leederville about how the City of Vincent has cut down three mature trees in front of their shop for a new bicycle lane:
Fortunately I was having an on-line conversation with a civil engineer who told me that most engineering contracts he has been involved in place a dollar value on trees. If he damaged or killed the tree, his company would have to pay for it and this could sometimes be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
It occurred to me that my earlier voting at council meeting was based on the fact that I simply didn’t value trees, and I suspect that this is the case all around the State. Decision makers don’t value trees and that is what needs to change. Now the value of trees in terms of fauna protection, or their cooling effects, health benefits etc are subjective and can be ignored. Let’s face it, that’s what is currently happening around the State. In addition one tree cut down isn’t going to make a difference to any of those things is it? The problem of course in when ten, or a hundred people all think the same way.
What we need to do is put a financial value on the tree. And every time any Council or State government department is to consider the destruction of a tree, they need to consider the dollar value. After some investigations I have discovered that there are a number of methods to value trees, and the Burnley Method seems the most widespread and it factors in tree size, life expectancy, form, vigour and location.
Now credit to the City of Swan, because I came across one of their council agenda items which was about a petition calling for a tree to be destroyed. The council unanimously rejected this, and I’d say the fact that in the agenda item, the tree had been given a valuation of $69,000 may have had something to do with that. You’d be a nutter of a Councillor to consent to knocking down a $69,000 asset which is collectively owned by all the ratepayers you are meant to represent.
But this isn’t happening everywhere else. I know there are no valuations provided to the City of Bayswater and with regards to the thirteen magnificent fig trees the City of Wanneroo were going to cut down a few months ago (before a public furore erupted) there was no mention of a dollar value in the 24 June agenda which is what the Council based their decision on. Perhaps if the Councillors had known the value of the trees was (presumably) many hundreds of thousands of dollars they wouldn’t have supported their destruction.
This week I’ve had parents from Bayswater Primary School contact me over the education department’s plans to destroy five mature trees at the school. I wonder whether the decision maker from the education department realise that those trees are also likely to be worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars? Probably not.
I believe every report presented to any tier of government which involves the destruction of trees should include a dollar value for the tree. People are currently making decisions based on values which they may not relate to such as environmental reasons. Rightly or wrongly, everyone understands dollars, and until these decisions incorporate the financial worth of a tree, nothing will change.
Who knows, perhaps if the State government and all local governments start monetising trees, so too will the public. And down the track, instead of the developers default position of clearing every living thing from a block before doing anything else, they may start to see that tree in the corner has a dollar value and is an asset worthy of being kept, or being built around. Just like this:
I’m interested in hearing whether your local government puts a financial value on a tree before they consider its future. Also whether you think this concept, which clearly isn’t new, but is equally clearly not being used everywhere, will work. I personally shall be writing to WALGA and the East Metropolitan Regional Council (EMRC) requesting they promote this concept to their members, also to Albert Jacob MLA (Minister for Environment) and Chris Tallentire MLA (Shadow Minister for Environment) and Tony Simpson MLA (Minister for Local Government) requesting they seek legislation to make this policy at a State and Local Government level. I shall let you know their responses.
Please be aware that these views are my own and are not endorsed by the City of Bayswater.