Red Deer County plan to chop trees panned

HolmeHus Antiques owner Susan Manyluk has fought before to save trees near her Red Deer County home from being chopped down.

HolmeHus Antiques owner Susan Manyluk has fought before to save trees near her Red Deer County home from being chopped down.

Now, she’s once again defending the treasured line of old black poplars on Township Road 282 about five km west of Red Deer.

The county has informed her it wants to take down the stretch of trees in a road allowance lining the route south of Hwy 11A to improve safety and visibility on the well-used route.

“It is a travesty. I don’t know what else you can call it,” said Manyluk, who has lived practically in the trees’ shade for 39 years. “Some of those trees are 100 years old.”

She points out these venerable natural inhabitants of the rural landscape gave Poplar Ridge its name. It has been estimated only about 10 per cent of Central Alberta’s original poplar forests remain, heightening the importance of protecting what is left, she said.

The trees have also created a perfect environment for saskatoon berries whose bushes climb more than six metres high.

Manyluk does not see why all of the trees must be removed. A little brush clearing and chopping down dead or rotting trees would be a better option, she said.

Myrna Pearman, a biologist and site services manager at Ellis Bird Farm, has also taken up the call to preserve the tree belt. Research in the U.S. and Manitoba has shown roadside tree stands often support native plant and animal species that have disappeared from surrounding landscapes.

“These linear tracts of public land are critically important because they provide, not only important habitat to a wide variety of native species, they provide linkages between scattered pockets of native habitat …” says Pearman in an email.

Pearman says biodiversity is being lost at a “catastrophic pace.” Preserving stands of trees like those on the township road allowance “would be an effective way for Red Deer County to practise more enlightened land stewardship, to save and manage — rather than continue to destroy — these repositories of native habitat.”

Manyluk agrees. In her yard lives a flying squirrel and species of birds, and even bees that favour the kinds of trees along the road, will be left homeless if the trees are gone.

Bees that live in the trees are important for pollinating local canola crops, she said.

Marty Campbell, the county’s director of operations, said the township road trees are being mulched as part of the municipality’s ongoing commitment to ensuring safety and maintaining its road allowances.

It’s part of a council-approved program that has been in place for about a decade to get the brush out of road allowances.

“We’re trying to catch up on all the roads and keep them clean of trees and brush,” he said.

“There are very few roads that connect pavement to pavement like that in our county that have trees that big and that close to the road shoulder. It’s become a high priority to brush the trees out of that road right-of-way and open it up.

“Especially when it leafs out in the summer, it’s so closed in.”

Besides regular local traffic, farm and construction equipment and school buses use the route. A construction contactor working for the city last fall expressed safety concerns after trying to get to a quarter section in the area.