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Vandals Chop 400 Research Trees at UCB

Lindsay Kines / Vancouver Sun 28oct99

Vandals chopped, broke or stomped 400 trees and seedlings on test plots at the University of B.C. early Wednesday, causing an estimated $250,000 damage and wiping out five years of biodiversity research.

Employees of B.C. Research Inc. discovered the damage when they arrived for work Wednesday morning, but nobody knows why the private company was targeted.

Speculation about the perpetrators has ranged from Halloween vandals to people celebrating a rumoured anti-genetic engineering week.

"We're going to leave that for the RCMP to investigate," Dave Goold, the company's chief financial officer, said Wednesday. "But this act of vandalism has set back people's work quite a number of years."

Goold said a number of the 15 researchers on the various projects have devoted years of their lives to studying the trees.

"If you had been working on a book, and you come in and you're hard drive failed -- some of them described it like that." he said. "It's this emptiness, and what do you do? There's nothing you can do.

"Some of it's down on paper, and they do have some of it. But most of it is in this tree that's now been cut in half. It's destroyed."

The research was being carried out by a B.C. Research subsidiary, Silvagen Inc., which was under contract with the provincial forests ministry. The work involved planting trees and watching how they grew in comparison to others, in an effort to determine which did the best.

"If we can do the selection of the best one in the test plots, that would be the best family . . . for reseeding for the forestry of British Columbia," Goold said.

Asked about the rumours of a so-called anti-genetic engineering week, Goold said employees at the company had heard about that, but had no evidence to link it with the crime.

"We haven't been contacted by anybody claiming any work or anything."

Goold said the research was not particularly controversial.

"We're working with best species, which some people may confuse with genetics and stuff like that. But most of it is just picking the best species from an area and making sure that works well and is best for growing in that particular area."

The company's insurer was expected to assess the damage late Wednesday. But Goold said early estimates put the damage at $200,000 to $300,000.

"We're just going to try to figure out how many years' work is in there, and what is the ongoing contract costs that we may lose," he said.

Goold said much of the work focused on Douglas firs and potted hemlocks. Some of the trees were more than a metre tall, while others were mere seedlings. Goold said the smaller plants appeared to have been stomped, while older ones were chopped down or partially cut and then broken.

"They must have been out there for a while," said Goold, noting that more than one person must have been involved.

"It was rows of the trees."

Goold said the company will have to start the project all over again if the forests ministry wishes to continue the research.

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