A mature Garry oak fell onto Richmond Road on Oct. 13 near Camosun College Lansdowne campus. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

A mature Garry oak fell onto Richmond Road on Oct. 13 near Camosun College Lansdowne campus. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)

Garry oak crashes down onto Richmond Road

Saanich responded to 59 tree-related calls

The failure of a large Garry oak on Richmond Road near Camosun College’s Lansdowne campus was one of many trees that crashed during last week’s windstorm.

Resident Jim Smith was concerned over the danger posed by the tree – currently blocking the sidewalk that nearly crashed onto a daycare building, saying it could have been a worse consequence.

“Somebody could have been killed,” Smith said, adding Saanich should do more to take down trees tha show decay.

It serves as a reminder that Saanich’s urban tree canopy is mature and that even with six arborists on staff, some trees are deceiving in terms of how healthy they look, said arborist Jason Clarke, Saanich’s Supervisor of Urban Forestry and Natural Areas Parks Division.

“The oak that failed on Richmond showed no outward signs that it had an issue,” Clarke said. “It had a full vibrant canopy… showed no outward signs that it had an issue … but had significant internal decay in the lower trunk. We had no previous calls in regards to this particular tree.”

Fall is the time of year when most tree fails occur, though Saanich fields about 1,500 calls each year regarding trees. Saanich crews ended up responding to 59 tree-related calls following the winds of Oct. 13 that gusted up to 90 km/h, and cleanup still continues.

“Fall creates a number of factors, most trees still have still have their canopies full of leaves, and when the ground is saturated, and the tree has a heavy canopy, that’s when winds can expose a tree,” Clarke said.

Saanich is immensely proud of its dense urban canopy that is also a challenge to manage. Due to Saanich’s sheer size of more than 1,035 kilometres of boulevards and 171 parks worth 825 square hectares it is forced to run a reactive tree program, Clarke noted.

“All [1,500 calls are] logged, looked at and responded to according to urgency,” Clarke said.

Various levels of tree risk assessment are done, starting with a drive-by for visuals.

“Usually you can see obvious defects,” Clarke said.

Arborists can drill a tree for internal decay, do load testing, aerial assessments, and other tests, but something has to show up visually when trying to manage thousands of trees, Clarke said.

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The tradeoffs for mature trees are immense, said Coun. Judy Brownoff.

“This is always the time when residents get nervous, because of the winds, branches and fails,” Brownoff said. “The real importance, for Saanich, is recognizing our green infrastructure.”

Trees are overlooked in the role they play with absorbing stormwater, Brownoff noted.

“We will need mature trees for the [acute] torrential rains everyone is predicting with climate change,”

Brownoff said.

Tree canopies along roads also manage the air quality. It was Brownoff, alongside the late councillor Vic Derman, who pushed Saanich engineering to introduce rain swales in places of redevelopment.

“If you have trees, and you’re anxious, have an arborist to look at them, but they are really important,” Brownoff noted.

Saanich residents are encouraged to provide district staff with as many details as possible regarding tree concerns. More info can be found at https://www.saanich.ca/EN/main/community/natural-environment/trees/public-trees-and-saanichs-role.html.

reporter@oakbaynews.com