"I don't care if they plant 100 trees for each one cut down!"
Those were the words of a local woman who recently stopped me in Randwick Junction to express her concerns about our trees.
"...they just say they will plant up to 8 trees for every one lost," I relayed.
She exclaimed, "I don't care if they plant 100 trees for each one cut down!"
And I thought, "I couldn't have said that better myself."
Because this really does get to the heart of the issue.
They (politicians and project proponents) maintain that 'unfortunately some trees need to be removed' and that 'they will be replaced'.
We keep replying that the trees that are set to be removed cannot be replaced.
But our truth seems to fall on uneducated ears.
So, let's educate.
"Why can't these trees be replaced?"
1. There are 'width restrictions' that would apparently prevent any new trees from being planted along Alison and Wansey roads.
That's right - the view above would be completely tree-less. Instead, the 'replacement' trees would be planted somewhere in the local government area. So this heritage tree, and the dozens of others like it (listed as having 'exceptional significance' by the way) might be 'replaced' somewhere closer to La Perouse.
2. Another reason lies in that strange word I just used - heritage.
The trees above were planted around 100 years ago along the Alison Road & Wansey Road boundaries of the Royal Randwick Racecourse. The Cook Pines in High Cross Park are around 125 years old. These trees provide a living connection to the heritage of this special area (did you know that Randwick is the oldest suburban municipality of Sydney?).
What a shame it would be for the younger generations to lose this connection.
3. Anything young trees can do, the oldies can do better.
No matter how many trees you plant, you cannot make up for the amenity that one established, mature tree provides (even 100 trees literally couldn't do it):
A scientific paper recently published in Nature found that, 'old trees do not act simply as senescent carbon reservoirs but actively fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees'. And when they breathe in more carbon dioxide, they breathe out more oxygen for us.
It doesn't take a scientific paper to prove that baby trees don't provide the same amount of shade as mature trees (and it doesn't take a genius to figure out how important shade is).
4. The new trees might not survive.
If we keep removing healthy, mature trees, simply because they are seen to be 'in the way', we might well end up with no urban trees one day. One of our Treekeepers, an arborist from Queensland, posted this on Facebook:
"We were promised at least two for one tree replacement on the Gold Coast following removal of in excess of 850 trees valued in excess of 1.2 M dollars. What we got was rather underwhelming landscaping with shrubs and ground covers with about 60 trees total along a length of 13 kms. Some of those trees already look close to death and will not likely be replaced. It is just a fact that when you take up public space with more infrastructure there is less space to plant a tree."
Which brings us to the very real possibility that...
5. There might not be enough space for those supposed 'replacement trees' anyway.
With 435 trees to be removed in Randwick, there may have to be over 3,000 trees planted.
Where would they fit...?
Those are just some reasons why these trees cannot be replaced.
This State government Light Rail project was put out to 'the market' to get 'the best price', with no priority given to keeping trees. So this shocking tree removal is what 'the market' brought us.
This is because the market cannot value trees.
It's true - we do put dollar values on trees. But these dollar values do not seem to provide sufficient incentives to keep our trees. And for good reason. The reason is that a dollar value only has meaning insofar as the tree can be exchanged for that amount of money. Because when we put a dollar value on a tree, a certain amount of money is deemed to be equivalent to that tree.
In other words, in the eyes of 'the market',
the worth of a tree - a unique, living and life-giving being -
is reduced to an amount of money.
But can money really replace a tree? Well maybe, if you're like this guy in Leunig's cartoon (but who wants to be like him?).
"I think that I shall never see A poem as lovely as a tree Destined for the chipping mill Every leaf a dollar bill. That pale trunk, those slender limbs; My imagination swims. I think that I shall never see Such golden opportunity. It is the loveliest of sights; A living thing that has no rights. I think that I shall never see A poem as lovely as a tree."