Chilliwack cemetery defends tree removal

Chilliwack Cemeteries manager says tree removal a necessity to protect both public safety and the cemetery's grave markers.

Bev Van Winkle

Bev Van Winkle

Trees have expiry dates, just like people.

That’s the message the manager of Chilliwack Cemeteries would like for people to understand the next time they see fresh stumps on the cemetery grounds.

Bev Van Winkle, manager of Chilliwack Cemeteries, was not surprised to learn of recent complaints made following the “controlled takedown” of three cedar trees and two maples last month.

She’s been fighting such complaints since starting in the position 12 years ago.

“The trees were rotten, they were splitting, they had to be taken down before they created all kinds of havoc and damage,” said Van Winkle.

But when Chilliwack resident Ron Smith, who frequently walks through the cemetery, saw what he believed to be healthy trees chopped down, and grave markers lying on their sides, he was horrified.

Smith sent letters and accompanying photos to Mayor Sharon Gaetz and the media.

“You just don’t do that,” he told The Progress. “They’re showing no respect for the dead.

“If somebody doesn’t say anything, I’m sure they’ll hack them all down.”

Van Winkle was quick to defend the cemetery’s actions, saying the takedown was proactive.

“Had we had another frost, after all that rain, it would have crashed down,” she said, pointing to the stump of one of the felled cedars. “It would have smashed all these headstones.”

In fact, two years ago, following a windstorm, the cemetery had 13 of its widow-maker maples crash down.

“There were limbs twice as big as my waist,” she said. “Parts big enough that if they landed on somebody, and you didn’t know they were there, you wouldn’t find them.

“These trees are huge, they can destroy 40 feet around, and when they crash, they smash.”

A controlled takedown involves extensive preparation and forethought, said Van Winkle.

Grave markers near the targeted trees are removed and laid flat two rows over to prevent any possibility for damage. Those that can’t be removed are enclosed with thick wood blocks for protection. And in areas with softer ground fill, the cranes work off grounds cutting sections of trees and attaching them to booms to prevent the ground from caving in.

Van Winkle, who keeps a record of photos for every takedown, would love to explain the process and share their reasonings for taking the trees down, but most often, no one asks.

“When I get frustrated is when they don’t ask why,” she said. “Why didn’t they walk in? Why didn’t they ask us a question before going off half handed.

“People don’t understand that some of this stuff has to be done. They’re old trees and just like old people, they die.”

All but one of the grave markers has been put back in place. Due to the heft and fragility of the remaining one, a backhoe is required.

As well, for every tree that’s removed a new tree is planted.

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