POLICE have launched a criminal investigation after someone cut down as many as 35 mature trees in Capilano River Regional Park - possibly to improve a view.
Metro Vancouver staff came across the damage on a steep slope just west of Capilano Road Jan. 10 after someone in the neighbourhood said they had heard chainsaws working overnight.
The culprits hacked down the second-growth timber, some of it as much as 60 years old, and removed limbs from other larger trees, all of them on parkland. Piles of branches and large trunks were left on the ground to rot.
The region conducted an assessment and then reported the incident to the North Vancouver RCMP last week.
The mess will cost $50,000 or more to clean up, according to staff. "I'm just astounded," said Mitch Sokalski, a parks manager for the region. "Who would go, even on their own property, and do this - let alone a park?"
On a tour of the site Tuesday morning, Sokalski pointed to the size of some of the trees that had been felled.
"Look at this cedar tree. . . those are magnificent species," he said. "Some of those branches are the size of 10-year-old trees."
The debris was so thick on the ground that it made the slope almost impassable in places.
Sokalski voiced particular concern for the older conifers that had been left standing. Many had been improperly limbed, leaving them are at risk of disease.
"Those trees, the oldest ones are about 145 years old," he said. "I think about B.C. coming into Confederation. That's how old those trees are."
The damage was not just esthetic, he said. The removals risk destabilizing the hillside, and the loss of canopy has let in sunlight that could encourage the growth of invasive species. He estimated as much as two acres of parkland could be impacted.
"There are a whole bunch of old growth trees around there," said Greg Valou, a spokesman for Metro who was also on the tour. "It's created a lot of potential ecological risks."
To restore the site, a crew will have to remove the debris from the inaccessible slope before it becomes a fire hazard and repair damaged trees, said Sokalski. A consultant will also have to be brought in to outline a plan for remediation, and new trees will have to be planted and maintained for several years.
Police say they are looking into the case seriously.
"I think citizens are quite rightly upset about it," said Sgt. Peter DeVries, a spokesman for the North Vancouver RCMP. "It's an awful thing to unlawfully cut down trees, especially in a place like North Vancouver, where I think people have a pretty significant reverence for our land and the environment."
Given that little wood appears to have been taken, Metro staff said it was likely the trees were cut to let more light through the canopy or to improve sightlines for the neighbourhood.
The views from two houses in the 4500block of Capilano Road appear to be the most directly affected by the change. No one answered the door at either residence Tuesday.
If police recommend charges, they will likely be for mischief over $5,000, said DeVries.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the North Vancouver RCMP at 604985-1311.