What is the province’s policy on dangerous trees and what steps are being taken to prevent further loss of life in B.C. parks?
These are questions Clearwater Mayor John Harwood will ask district councillor and Murtle Lake contractor Merlin Blackwell after trees fell on campers’ tents twice within Wells Gray Provincial Park during the last month.
In one case, a family narrowly escaped being crushed, but on Friday, Alice Bernice Gilbert, 66, of Kaslo, was killed when a tree fell on her tent.
“I want to see what their policy is on danger trees, whether there is a policy and whether anything is being put into effect on that,” Harwood told The Daily News on Tuesday.
A campsite at Spahats Creek was closed because of dangerous trees, said Harwood, who is also a Kamloops-Thompson school trustee.
He said the school district cut down hundreds of dangerous trees to mitigate the risk of one falling on a student.
“We’re always doing that examination. We have people who go out and examine danger trees. If they are noted as dangerous, we take them down,” said Harwood.
To do so in Murtle Lake would be a tremendous undertaking given the number of trees at the location, he said. But something must be done to save lives.
“I want to know what the policy is within parks,” said Harwood.
Blackwell has not responded to requests for an interview.
B.C. NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert also wants to know what the province’s dangerous tree policy is. He questions why more isn’t being done to warn campers about the danger.
There is a warning on the Murtle Lake website, but Herbert questions how many people bother to check it before going camping. Campers are saying there are no such warnings posted on site, he said.
“What are you supposed to look for? Most campers are not tree experts,” said Herbert.
A warning on the B.C. Parks website for Murtle Lake dated August 2010 cautions about dead trees because of the mountain pine beetle infestation.
The beetle-killed trees have been removed, but that makes healthy trees vulnerable to strong gusts of wind that can bring them down, which Herbert said is a problem.
He said there should be better signage and an explanation from the province about what is being done with the dangerous trees.
“I’d like an actual response from the Ministry of Environment about what they are going to do to make it safer because it’s not safe now,” he said.
Environment Minister Mary Polak is on vacation and unavailable for comment. Herbert planned to write her a letter Tuesday.
In an email, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environment said dangerous trees are identified according to a B.C. Parks Wildlife/Danger Tree Assessment process.
No explanation of that process was provided.
Murtle Lake is assessed twice a year and was inspected recently, the spokesman said. The tree that killed Gilbert was not deemed to be a risk.
“The failure of this healthy tree was not predictable,” he said.
Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Terry Lake has read a report on the most recent incident at Murtle Lake. As far as he’s concerned, the death was an unfortunate accident.
“This was something that was not predictable or foreseeable,” he said. “Obviously, our heartfelt condolences go out to the family. This is just a terrible thing.”