Tuesday, April 16, 2013

1995-11-22 Tree-Hugger

November 22, 1995, Wednesday
The Vancouver Courier
by Kerry Gold

Hong Kong environmentalist says many Chinese immigrants too urbanized to care about conservation

Kerrisdale tree wins temporary reprieve

China-born environmentalist Anthony Marr temporarily saved a tree in Kerrisdale from the chainsaw Monday.
It’s only the beginning of a campaign to help solve problems that are the result of a serious clash between cultures, he said.

“For the time being, the tree is safe, and I have notified residents,” Marr said after a protest that chased away tree fellers who’d begun to remove the lower boughs of a giant cedar.

When a few Kerrisdale residents realized another tree was about to come down Monday, they rushed to obstruct the fellers. Marr was notified by a protester friend, and within minutes he arrived at the site and joined in. He says he later talked in Chinese with the absentee property owner, who agreed to leave the tall cedar tree in the front yard of 6355 Vine St. temporarily standing.

“After talking to me for awhile, he promised not to cut down the tree for the time being, and will try to sell his property with the tree intact.”

However, if he moves into the house himself, he’ll probably cut the tree down, Marr added.

The temporary save isn’t enough for Kerrisdale residents so angry with the rash of tree-cutting in their neighbourhood they’ve formed a committee to deal with the problem. The 40-strong Tree Protection Committee is a part of the Kerrisdale Residents’ Association.

They are mostly long-time Kerrisdale residents fed up with the cutting of trees that are often generations old and irreplaceable. They say that they’re frustrated by city bylaws that don’t have the teeth to prevent destruction of the ecosystem and the natural beauty of the neighbourhood known for its profusion of towering trees. They also feel that the tree-cutting is motivated by profit, and is insensitive to the betterment of the community.

When the tree fellers arrived at the Vine street property, word spread like wildfire among the residents, and they quickly assembled into protest.

“We’re upset and we feel the legislation has to change,” said Irmela Topf, a 24-year Kerrisdale resident who moved to Vancouver Europe because of the scenery. “We neighbours want to keep our trees. This is what makes Vancouver so special.”

Scenes like the one on Vine Street have become commonplace the last few years. While new housing is on the rise to meet the needs of new Chinese immigrants, residents are growing increasingly angry over the removal of old-growth trees.

The private property tree bylaw requires any tree removed to be replaced (“by a twig”, a resident say) when the owner applies for a development permit. But residents say the bylaw is pointless, since it would take another 150 years to re-establish the beauty of that tree again.

“I have never seen this level of urban-tree cutting in any other province or city in the world,” said Barbra Johnston, who sat against the tree and refused to leave, causing the fellers to go away.

“We’re upset and we feel the legislation has to change. This city has to take a stand. We as private citizens can voice our feelings, but we have to have someone who will back us up.”

Enter Marr. He moved to Vancouver 30 years ago, delved into Canadian culture and developed a keen interest in wildlife. As a Hong Kong native, he believes he can act as a go-between for the two cultures.

He’s only recently begun his campaign to liaise between Canadian-born locals and Chinese immigrants. He calls his work to save endangered species the BET’R (pronounced “better”, for Bear, Elephant, Tiger & Rhino) Campaign. While his focus is mainly the illegal trade in bear parts, he says he’ll get involved in any environmental issue.

“I’m a Chinese person dealing with a Chinese-caused problem; that is the uniqueness of my program. Caucasian people find it daunting because of the possibility of alleged racism, so none of their campaigns hit the nail on the head hard enough to have it sink in. I’m volunteering myself as a Chinese activist for non-Chinese to voice the justified opinion.”

Marr is a writer with a physics degree. He’s been involved with the environmental movement since the 1970s, he says. He aims to spread environmental awareness to the Chinese community through school lectures and the media, because wildlife conservation is generally not a concern for most people from Hong Kong, he says.

“Generally, people from Hong Kong have been so concrete-jungle-conditioned that they don’t have the same kind of attachment to trees as Canadian people do. Wildlife awareness is not high among the community. Wild space is considered potential development sites, and basically the attitude is very anthropocentric. If a Hong Kong business person sees an opportunity to build a profitable golf course on a piece of marshland, they would do it without a second thought. And wild animals are still for utility, and wilderness is to be conquered. Sounds familiar?”

Marr confesses that before he came to Canada, he had the same way of thinking. “Unlike many immigrants from Asia, though, personal circumstances have led me to seek full integrated into Canadian society. I’ve acquired a lot of Canadian values, and I’ve come to appreciate wildlife and wilderness for their own sake, as many Canadians do.”

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