Cottage Q&A: Pining for a solution

Published: February 8, 2019

A tree fallen into a lake in a forest. Photo by Olga.Reshetnyak/Shutterstock.

How should we deal with a pine tree that has fallen into the lake? It was struck by lightning and became a hot spot for woodpeckers. It has since fallen into the water, and it is interfering with our rope swing and favourite swimming spot.

—Zeke DesChamp, via email

“As is usually the case, the answer is, ‘It depends,’” says Mike Yee, the environmental planner and the manager of biology and water quality with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority in Manotick, Ont. Before you do anything at all, you’re best to make sure you don’t need a permit from your municipality or the go-ahead from a local conservation authority, environmental ministry, or Parks Canada. And safety first: remove a tree that’s a hazard to navigation or in some way dangerous. Beyond that, “you want to try to find a balance between your needs and the needs of the lake,” says Yee. “Downed woody debris is very, very good for water ecology. It provides structure, nutrients, and places for things to hide and live. It’s like an apartment building for the lake.”

How’s the health of the existing riparian ecosystem? If your shoreline is struggling—with a lot of erosion and little native vegetation—the tree “will have a much more significant positive impact,” says D.G. Blair, the executive director of the Stewardship Centre for B.C.

Can you remove only a portion of the tree? The fish and other wildlife will get their apartment building, and you’ll still get your swimming area. Win all around! If you must get rid of it, “anything that you do by hand will be much less invasive,” says Blair. If the work requires power tools, a winch, or a backhoe, call a certified tree service company. “You don’t want to be leaning out of a boat, wielding a chainsaw,” says Mark Ellis, a senior consulting arborist with the Davey Resource Group.

In certain areas, early spring is fish-spawning season; the work could stir up silt or destroy eggs at a crucial time. The tree won’t become habitat the instant it hits the lake, so waiting until this sensitive period is over (or acting before it begins) is better for the fish. Plus, you won’t be breaking the law: there are often regulations governing these in-water “works windows.”

Got a question for Cottage Life’s Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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