HALIFAX — The individual or group responsible for the damage to about 30 historic trees in the Halifax Public Gardens “knew exactly what they were doing,” the city’s senior urban forestry supervisor said Wednesday.
Sometime between Monday evening and Tuesday morning, strips of bark were removed around the trunk of many trees, most of which are between 50 and 200 years old, police said.
It’s unclear how many trees will be lost due to the damage. The bark cutting -- called girdling -- is a method used to kill trees without cutting them down. If the cambium layer -- the part of the tree that produces new wood -- is damaged enough, the tree will die.
Kevin Osmond, senior supervisor of Halifax's urban forestry department, says the girdling appears to have been done with a hatchet or small axe.
“Somebody who did this knew exactly what they were doing," Osmond told reporters Wednesday, gesturing to a 200-year-old weeping beech tree. "They intentionally came out to damage this tree, to try and kill this tree."
“Girdling a tree usually kills it,” he said, because it cuts off the flow of nutrients and water within a tree.
Osmond said that after evaluating the damage, he expects the financial cost of the vandalism to be “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.
A commissionaire working security at the Gardens noticed the damage at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning when their shift began. The public gardens were closed to the public throughout the day Tuesday while police investigated and gardeners worked to assess and repair the damage.
The Gardens reopened to the public Wednesday, and some visitors came to mourn the state of the trees.
Amy Cahoon, visiting Halifax from the Ottawa Valley, said she cancelled her plans for the day to spend time at the Gardens after learning about the damage. “It feels like a funeral for the trees,” she said in an interview Wednesday.
“I just don’t understand what anyone’s motivation could be to do something like this and harm the most beautiful and innocent of living things,” she added.
Michael White, who lives across the street from the Gardens, said he was “very distressed” to learn of the vandalism. White said he spends a great deal of time in the Gardens, usually with a camera in hand to take pictures of the flowers and trees.
On Wednesday, he left his camera at home, he said, because he wasn’t in the mood to take pictures after learning about the damage. He said he's shocked and disappointed that someone would target “such a beautiful spot” that is so loved by the community.
Sean Street, horticulture supervisor for the Gardens, said his team of gardeners are devastated by the incident. “The Public Gardens have existed for 150 years and to our knowledge nothing like this has happened,” he told reporters Wednesday.
For his team of gardeners, some of whom have worked at the Gardens for decades, “it feels like our home has been broken into,” he said.
Four small trees that were damaged have been removed entirely, and the horticulture team is working to save the rest of the trees. Osmond said it may take more than a year to know if their rehabilitation attempts are successful.
Gardeners took the cut-off bark from the bases of the damaged trees and stapled them back like “puzzle pieces,” Osmond said. Next, his team will attempt bridge-grafting the trees, which involves taking healthy bark from higher up on a tree and using it to repair the cut.
Street said he hopes the public has information that can help the police investigation. He said the type of vandalism that occurred “would have made a lot of noise and would have been going on for quite a while.”
The Halifax Regional Police are asking anyone with knowledge of the incident to contact them.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press