BC Hydro vegetation manager loves that we help 'regreen' B.C.

Image of people planting trees as part of the Community ReGreening program
The Nanaimo Old City Association volunteers, with help from the City of Nanaimo, planted 50 ornamental plum, cherry, red maple and Katsura trees in April. The planting was made possible through a BC Hydro re-greening grant awarded to Nanaimo this past winter.

Over 21 years, we've paid for more than 300,000 trees planted in communities across B.C.

BC Hydro's vegetation management team can get a rough ride from the public, which goes with the territory when a big part of your job is identifying and removing what we call hazard trees. That's why Duncan Isberg is so happy to get a chance to talk about our Community ReGreening program.

Each year, BC Hydro pays for thousands of seedlings, large trees, and medium trees to be planted in communities across B.C.

"I would say probably 99% of the staff in the BC Hydro vegetation program are arborists," says Isberg, a vegetation program manager. "And in a lot of cases the thing that got us into this industry was not about cutting trees down. It was about a love and understanding of the value of trees."

Since the launch of the Community ReGreening program in 1999, BC Hydro has paid for more than 300,000 trees. And in the past year alone, 13,000 trees were planted across B.C. as part of the program.

The brainchild of former BC Hydro vegetation manager Brian Fisher, the ReGreening program was designed to help reduce electrical hazards in communities while also allowing local governments, First Nation bands and other community administrations to enhance their urban forests. It was about creating safer, more attractive and sustainable communities, while also fostering improved relationships with communities.

"What we were trying to do was just be a good corporate citizen," says Fisher, who started with BC Hydro in 1991 and retired after 20 years with the utility. "When we prune a tree, they grow back, but when we cut them, they're gone. And a lot of times, municipalities just didn't have funding for tree programs.

"Our idea was to come in with some money to help get those programs off the ground."

Trees most often planted in parks and urban areas

The BC Hydro-purchased trees are planted through grants for small community projects, either directly through us or through a partnership with Tree Canada. And while education around planting "the right tree, in the right place" near power lines is a priority, trees are often planted in parks and other areas far away from power lines.

"I get a lot of thank-you letters – I have a stack on my desk here," says Isberg. "I don't have time to respond to them all. The town of Ladysmith ... the District of Saanich ... City of Victoria ... City of North Vancouver. I have tons of these letters that say 'It's amazing that you guys were able to contribute to this project we did'."

Fourteen B.C. municipalities can apply each year to receive direct grants from BC Hydro. In all other regions, we partner with Tree Canada to work with local communities. In these areas, communities apply directly to Tree Canada for funding.

What does this look like? Here's a look at a few projects from 2015:

  • 820 trees, ranging from big-leaf maple to western red cedar and sword ferns, planted across three parks in Central Saanich
  • 18 variegated maple trees planted, to serve as shade and wind breaks, in three playgrounds in the District of Kitimat
  • 790 trees and shrubs planted as part of the Nature Play Park project at the Pemberton & District Community Centre
  • 24 trees and shrubs planted at Pebble Beach and Sorrento Blind Bay Park on Shuswap Lake after cottonwoods — which had been targeted by beavers and presented hazards for overhead wires — had to be pruned.

BC Hydro's Isberg started as a 'branch manager'

Isberg got his start in the tree business way back in 1979 when he started "on the bottom rung" of a school friend's private tree company.

"The company operated out of a pickup truck, with a couple of chainsaws, some climbing gear and all the rest," he recalls. "I started as what I called 'the branch manager', the guy who dragged the brush and loaded it into the back of the truck, taking it to the dump."

After becoming a certified utility arborist, Isberg joined a large tree company before arriving at BC Hydro in 2005. He has witnessed the big storm of 2006 that toppled a thousand trees in Stanley Park alone, and the devastating windstorm of last August 29 that, because trees were in full leaf and many were weakened by drought, led to an unprecedented number of power outages in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island.

"I think it's a shame to see us lose large trees, but I also respect that it's part of nature," he says.

Thankfully, it's part of Isberg's job to help communities replace some of those lost trees. Just so long as they don't mess with our power lines.

Learn more about BC Hydro's Community ReGreening Program [PDF, 564 KB]