The “Wolf Tree”

“The Champlain Oak at 115 Northwestern is not a modest backyard tree but rather a presence seen from a block away on this quiet street near Tunney’s Pasture. The tree, seek along with two others on Northwestern (see interactive map), marked the western edge of the lands of Anthony Tunney, who imigrated from Ireland to Ottawa in 1867.”

 

The great age, size and prickly character of the Champlain Oaks make them a distinctive tree in many ways. So too does their important genetic material. Trees such as these with origins that pre-date settlement are pure stock adapted to local growing conditions and the long cycles of extreme weather events that can kill planted trees of imported stock. Oddly, most nursery Oaks available in the Ottawa area are not from this area, or even from Eastern Canada.

Very large forest trees that play this role in an ecosystem are known by foresters as “wolf trees” because of their rough and ready character. This and other distinctive features make the Champlain Oaks fully deserving of the designation of Heritage trees. The concept of a Heritage Tree has already been passed into law by a number of Ontario municipalities and is actively supported by the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Ontario Urban Forest Council. These legislative initiatives are taken to balance individual property rights with the collective right to protect the natural heritage of citizens. As the ecological, social and environmental services of trees become more widely understood, so too will efforts to balance the overlapping rights of individuals and citizens.

Wolf trees, such as the magnificent Bur Oak at 115 Northwestern now threaten with destruction, are becoming increasingly rare in urban Ottawa. Furthermore, they are unlikely to be replaced by future trees of this size — large trees require large rooting areas, growing conditions on the decline in many inner city neighbourhoods. With the rapid loss of backyard spaces in our neighbourhoods, trees of this size and age will never develop here again. Never. The February 2, 2011 meeting of the Committee of Adjustment Panel 1 is the day to save this magnificent giant from the chain saw.

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