On May 24, about 20 Fredericton residents gathered at the Old Government House on Woodstock Road in Fredericton to oppose the removal of eastern white cedar hedges.
The city of Fredericton has decided to remove the hedges, located near the banks of the Wolastoq River (Saint John River) and around the residence of New Brunswick’s Lieutenant-Governor, based on recommendations made by the City’s Crime Prevention of Environmental Design study to ensure public safety of that area.
Residents are opposing the removal of the hedges because they say the City of Fredericton is destroying important habitat for birds and other wildlife, and they do not agree that the removal of the hedges will address public safety concerns regarding the city’s homeless population.
According to Nadine Ives, a tree ecologist, “Large cedars like that are really valuable for birds and other creatures year-round. In winter storms, that’s where your birds and your squirrels are hanging out.”
Ives wants to know if the removal of the hedges is in compliance with the Federal Migratory Birds Act, as it prohibits damage to nests. During nesting season, trees are not to be taken down.
In early January, the city of Fredericton removed a tent city at the location of the hedge removal, evicting a number of homeless people from the area.
Stephen Chase is a Fredericton city councillor representing Ward 9 and chair of the city’s Public Safety and Environment Committee. When asked what the Committee is doing in support of Fredericton’s homeless population, Chase replied, “the PS&E Committee has no mandate vis a vis homeless matters. Policing, if required, is within the committee mandate, although policing itself is arms-length from the Council.”
Margo Sheppard, a long-time conservationist, is challenging the city’s move. She addressed her concerns to Ward 10 Councillor John MacDermid: “The homeless will need to find another site, and won’t likely even put up their tents there. The presence/absence of the other two hedges is thus irrelevant, as far as the homeless are concerned. However, they are full of birds and bird feeding, sheltering and nesting habitat–the loss of which is the cause of plunging bird populations everywhere.”
MacDermid responded with an open letter to Sheppard: “The work being done at Old Government House, in consultation with the provincial government, is to make the OGH area where last year there was an encampment area safe for the general public, including encampment residents. The encampment that was in that area last year created a serious public safety issue.”
Citing the city’s Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) study, MacDermid wrote, “The crime part of CPTED I think has led to a belief that the city is taking an anti-poverty/anti-homeless position, that as a council and municipal corporation we are criminalizing both. Homelessness and poverty are not the domain of municipalities in the province. It is solely the responsibility of the provincial government to address these issues in collaboration at times with the federal government.”
Ives believes that trees get scapegoated for problems that are human problems.
“It was reported that they found 1000 needles in a tent, but this has nothing to do with the hedges,” Ives said.
The city has claimed they acted in accordance with the Federal Migratory Birds Act yet according to Ives, the area was only surveyed after the first row of hedges were removed. Since nests were found, the removal date of the remaining hedges will not occur until this fall.
“I think we need to have a shift of mentality in the city of Fredericton to where trees are valued as assets to be protected,” Ives said.
Cortney MacDonnell is an environmental action reporter with RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment), a research project based at the University of New Brunswick.