I dedicate this article to a friend who was struck down recently, senselessly cut down and removed to make way for yet another building designed for humans - a shed.
This friend was an eastern white cedar. Strong and healthy, it was much loved by the cardinals and warblers that used it.
Its demise started last summer, when the new neighbours started hacking pieces off, starting at the top.
Cutting the crown off a tree can kill it unintentionally. It's like beheading it, since this is where the tree's brain is, which helps it function and grow. But I knew in my neighbour's case that the intention was elimination.
I immediately printed information from my computer about how much trees are worth in an urban environment, and put it in their mailbox. I included info about Toronto's tree bylaw, just in case the new neighbours were unaware that they would need permission to cut down a tree, even on their own property. But it was all for naught.
I got home the other day, almost 10 months after the original lopping-off, to find my friend gone. All that was left was a pile of shavings.
The new tree by-law, it turns out, was no protection. R.I.P., old friend.
According to councillor Joe Pantalone, the city's tree advocate, the bylaw is designed to put an end to the slaughter of big trees. He tells me protecting trees on private property is essential, since the best growing conditions are found in backyards, away from the stresses of the street and front yards, like salt and car exhaust.
But "a lot of people don't like trees and see them as a nuisance. They falsely believe that tree roots cause cracks in pipes or foundations. Roots will be drawn to pipes already cracked and leaking water," Pantalone says.
Many people are also unaware that the city offers grants for the repair or replacement of cracked pipes.
Janet McKay, executive director of LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests), offers that the bylaw is a useful tool, "but we still need more education not only for citizens but also for building and landscape contractors and heavy equipment operators. Trees are inconsistently protected, and infractions happen daily on both city and private land."
Richard Ubbens, the city's forestry director, says, "Protecting trees boils down to staffing. It's a dance of competing interests."
Although the city was called to investigate the case of my neighbour's tree, the eastern white cedar fell short of the requirements for protection it was smaller than the 30-centimetre- diameter benchmark.
But this is clearly an justice to the species. Cedars take a long time to mature and often grow in stoles, or families, that share one root system. It might take decades for single cedars to reach the girth that would qualify them for protection under our bylaw.
Ownership issues come into play, too. Should I be trying to protect a tree in your backyard? What if "your" tree provides shade for my house?
The biggest problem with protecting the environment is how to address issues that cross boundaries, and many do, whether it's a backyard fence or the atmosphere.
The birds I feed in my yard roost in your tree. You cut down your tree and my bird friends become environmental refugees.
This new era calls for new environmental ethics.
Bernadette Zubrisky is a volunteer ecologist with the Sierra Club of Canada, Ontario chapter