Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. has detailed plans for removing trees and brush to facilitate construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. We recently connected with Matthew McTavish from McTavish Resource & Management Consultants Ltd. Matt is an ISA certified arborist, wildlife danger tree assessor and journeyman horticulturalist who has worked for several years on urban forestry, vegetation management and restoration projects for KMC.

One of the questions that comes up, particularly from people living along the right-of-way for the Trans Mountain Pipeline, is why it’s necessary to prune or remove trees when carrying out work on the existing pipeline. Matt gets similar questions about TMEP, which requires right-of-way clearing as well as assessments of trees along the edge of the clearing footprint. In this Q&A, Matt explains TMEP’s plans for clearing the Project right-of-way — and Trans Mountain’s plans for sustainably restoring land once the Expansion Project is complete. 

Why is it necessary to remove trees along the Project right-of-way?

This Project requires the clearing of land and the removal of trees located within the boundaries of our facilities, along the pipeline right-of-way (ROW) and temporary working space. This clearing is undertaken to accommodate the installation and safe operation of the new pipe and supporting facilities.   

A common question people ask is, ‘Why can’t we replant the right-of-way with the same species of trees after the construction work is complete?’ We need to make sure the Operations team has access to the right-of-way to maintain the integrity of the pipeline. We also need to ensure a clear line of sight over the pipeline for aerial inspections. Large trees can make that work challenging.  

It’s important to note that although the right-of-way won’t be replanted with large trees, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be left bare. The right-of-way will be revegetated with grasses and low growing shrubs.

How closely do you work with local governments when you’re removing trees?

Trans Mountain is working with municipalities in developing Tree Management Plans similar to those required by municipal bylaws. Our team has been working hard in the field collecting survey data. This data enables us to:

  • Accurately project the number of trees that will require removal
  • Determine which trees pose a risk to the construction team and the public
  • Identify trees that require protection
  • Identify significant trees we can consider retaining 

Tree Management Plans are being developed for each municipality affected by the Project.

What about provincial considerations, say on Crown land, are there regulations about avoiding nesting seasons?

Trans Mountain must meet all regulatory standards. The construction schedule was built with respect to the bird nesting window. We will be clearing outside of the migratory bird nesting window. Where necessary, biologists will conduct bird sweeps, monitoring, raptor surveys, species at risk surveys and salvages prior to any land clearing.

How will trees close to construction areas be protected?

An environmental protection plan (EPP) has been developed for the Project. This plan outlines specific measures to be implemented during clearing activities to ensure adjacent trees are protected. For example, temporary fencing may be installed to protect specific trees and the Project footprint will be staked to prevent workers and equipment from accessing areas not in the work area. There will be professional oversight by a qualified person or persons such as environmental inspectors, professional foresters and certified arborists to ensure right-of-way preparation is performed in a way that minimizes impact to adjacent trees.

Have you been previously involved in right-of-way work?

Yes. My career is mainly focused in urban forestry, vegetation management and reclamation for various infrastructure companies.

How do you determine whether a tree close to the right-of-way could pose a threat?

There are many things to consider when determining whether a tree poses a risk to people, infrastructure, equipment or property. Once these risks are identified the tree’s health and integrity are thoroughly assessed to determine whether removal is necessary or if there are alternative mitigation measures that can be implemented.

Not all construction-related activity takes place within the right-of-way. Will those areas be replanted with trees?

We’ve been involved not only in forestry work but also reclamation assessments from Edmonton to Burnaby. The right-of-way itself will not be replanted with trees, but all of the temporary working spaces where trees are removed will be reforested.

One thing we have done and continue to do along the entire Project footprint is collect baseline landscape inventory information. This inventory includes landscape features within individual properties. The reason for this is to ensure that once the pipeline is installed and the construction is finished, properties will be restored to their original condition.

If it can’t be put back in the exact same way, it’s put back in a way that’s agreed upon between Trans Mountain and the landowner. 'As good or better,' is how we refer to it. 

How much impact do trees have on reducing noise?

There is a perception that trees provide sound abatement — that they dampen noise. There have been studies measuring noise behind a 30-metre-wide tree buffer, as opposed to no buffer at all and the difference was about the volume of a whisper.

That being said, we recognize the visual value of a buffer and we take that into account. There have been several properties where we developed restoration plans to re-establish a visual buffer.

What happens to the trees when the land is cleared? 

There is a timber salvage plan that has been developed specifically for this Project. Some of the material will be chipped on-site and used for remediation — soil amendment or erosion control. Any merchantable timber is delivered to mills. If merchantable timber is on private land, the landowner is paid for the loss of the timber. The Project will abide by all provincial and federal regulations with respect to merchantable timber (paying all stumpage fees, timber mark acquisition, First Nation consultation, permitting, etc.).

What do you do about trees along the edge of right-of-way that may be at risk in a windstorm?

We conduct danger tree and windthrow assessments prior to construction. A major consideration is to ensure the protection of our neighbours and infrastructure. Another consideration is ensuring the safety of our personnel and equipment. If we are working in a tight area close to a community, certified danger tree assessors perform assessments along that work area and outside that work area for any potential risk to people, property, construction crews and equipment.

Another assessment will be performed after construction to ensure no tree that poses a risk to people, their property or the right-of-way is left.

How does Trans Mountain ensure that revegetation efforts are effective and sustainable?

Trans Mountain has spent a lot of time and effort developing remediation plans specific to the areas we are working in. Various environmental surveys and studies have been conducted for this Project. The results of these surveys enable us to plant what’s best suited to the ecosystem we are working in.

As a professional arborist and horticulturalist, I find Tran Mountain’s commitment to monitoring its land reclamation and recovery work outstanding. Restoration work will be monitored for five years at a minimum. 

If the reclamation isn’t meeting our expectations, we will amend the area as needed and reseed or replant to ensure vegetation establishment is successful.

Our main goal is to see this Project through from start to finish and that’s not just to get the resource flowing. It's to make sure the land is restored in such a way that it is acceptable to everyone involved.