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'It's going to have a massive impact': Removal of 160,000 trees in Stanley Park to cost taxpayers $4.4M

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A combination of a tree-eating insect and extreme weather has taken its toll on Vancouver's crown jewel.

Crews are working to remove approximately 160,000 trees from Stanley Park that have been deemed dead or dying.

"It's going to have a massive impact," said Tom Digby, a park board commissioner.

"There’s going to be a lot of road closures, as we make sure those trees that are at risk of falling on the roads are dealt with, specifically; the trails inside the park will be closed one by one.”

The Vancouver Park Board says a hemlock looper moth outbreak has wreaked havoc on the park. One expert believes the recent dry summer has exacerbated the issue.

“When a tree loses its needles, and at the same time there’s a drought that lasts for months during the summer and the trees can’t recover, I think that’s why we’ve seen so much mortality," said Richard Hamelin, head of forestry and conservation science at UBC.

Hamelin says he believes the looper threat in the park has subsided for now, but that outbreaks occur every few years.

The park board has already started removing trees and replanting in impacted areas.

"Impacted areas will be replanted with tens of thousands of native tree species, including Douglas fir and western red cedar to support a more resilient ecosystem against disease and other natural impacts," the board said in an email to CTV News.

"$4.4 million is the estimate to take these all down," said Digby, adding that it might take "two to three years" to complete the job.

Digby says for now the cost is solely on the City of Vancouver, but the park board is reaching out to the provincial and federal government for assistance.  

The hemlock looper moth – which is described by the federal government as a "serious defoliator" – feeds on coastal coniferous species of trees like pines, spruces, and firs. Tens of thousands of replacement trees will be planted, and some dead trees will be left in place as "nurse logs" which the park board explains are meant to stimulate the "regeneration of the surrounding ecosystem.

A series of road and lane closures have been scheduled for the Stanley Park Causeway and the Lions Gate Bridge to allow crews space to work.

"This work will require time and an extra level of care to minimize impacts, and we thank the public in advance for their cooperation as we work to protect this very beloved space,” the statement from the park board says.

A full list of dates and times for the planned closures is available online. 

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