After the ice storm, January, 1998


Money grows in trees

BRONWYN CHESTER | Anyone on campus last year during the months following last January's ice storm will not forget the forlorn look of so many of McGill's trees. While the early and generous spring and summer of this year helped enormously, a number of trees still looked pretty banged up.

One need only look at some of the crabapple trees hugging the front wall of the Macdonald Engineering Building to remember what our urban allies went through.

In fact, one of the most positive things to emerge from that cataclysmic event must be a heightened appreciation of trees, their beauty, their ability to provide shade, shelter and places for play and to mask urban noises and unsightly scenes. Trees, especially in an intensely urban setting like McGill's, are often shelter from the storm.

And while little could be done to shelter them from the storm, there is work underway to heal McGill's approximately 400 storm-damaged trees and strengthen the remaining 356. Fittingly, it will be the money from the $208,000 insurance claim submitted for tree damage that will pay for the prunings -- one this year and one in three years time -- and the replacement of the 26 trees that had to be cut down.

Two hundred and eight thousand dollars, you say?

That may sound like rather a lot, but an afternoon spent with Luc Nadeau, the consulting arbourist hired to evaluate the campus's loss, makes that amount sound reasonable.

In determining the dollar value of each of the damaged trees, Nadeau took into consideration their size, species, condition, beauty and location. Other factors include the tree's shade value, ability to mask noise or absorb air pollutants and the cost of replacing it.

So, a tree like the European purple beech, situated at the end of the line of trees located in the field beneath the McLennan Library, is one of the campus's more valuable, worth an estimated $4,900. Why? Because it's beautiful, in good condition, rare in Eastern Canada and the biggest one of its kind in Quebec, says Nadeau, having consulted his National Registry of Big Trees.

But it's the mature gingkoes, noted for their fan-shaped leaves, found alongside the McLennan Library on McTavish Street that are the jewels in the crown. One valued at $45,371 lost $5,671 of its value due to the storm. Gingkoes are worth so much because "they're the ancestors of all trees on the planet," says Nadeau. "They were around in the time of the dinosaurs!"

Another rare tree on campus is the dawn redwood in the inner courtyard of the Stewart Biology Building. "It usually grows no farther north than Toronto," says Nadeau.

One tree that is neither rare nor particularly valuable, but is sorely missed, is the 50-year-old Norway maple that used to stand in the middle of the lower campus on the east side, not far from the statue of James McGill. Will it be replaced?

David Covo, director of the School of Architecture and chair of McGill's garden committee, says "probably," but adds that his committee will not simply "put back what was there.

"We have to look at complementing the existing landscape and to look more broadly at the campus as a landscape," he says, adding that he wants to encourage those groups on campus wanting to contribute to the replanting as a sort of memorial act.

From Tom Hayes's point of view, he's found the process of evaluating and pruning the campus trees highly beneficial to himself and to the grounds workers. Hayes is the supervisor of the Maintenance Operations Centre and oversaw all stages of the storm's clean-up. Through working with Nadeau, "we learned a great deal about trees, proper pruning techniques. We know better how to avoid future disaster to the trees," says Hayes.

Furthermore, the grounds division will soon have a database into which the name, location and status of every tree on campus will be entered to ensure that up-to-the-minute information can be retrieved or entered on any tree.

After all, trees are very important to the University. "The second most important reason for choosing a university is the beauty of the campus," says Hayes. McGill, which still has $3.5 million worth of trees, hasn't lost that attribute.