Death adds to concerns about tree precautions
The tragic death last night of a cyclist struck by a falling tree raises fresh concerns over whether steps to prevent such accidents have been sufficient. When a tree in a public area falls without warning but no harm is done, the question is whether it has been neglected. When someone is hurt or even killed, more serious questions are raised. These now need to be answered in light of Monday's incident on a Sha Tin cycle track that led to the man's death.
Our trees are worth saving for environmental reasons, but not at cost to life and limb. That calls for diligent expert inspection and care, particularly for the remaining 400-odd trees listed as old and valuable. In this case the 15-metre yellow poinciana was only about 10 years old. A Leisure and Cultural Services Department official says an inspection a month ago found no problems. But conservationists suspect it had been weakened by a fungal attack and internal decay.
Trees collapse for a number of reasons, as evidenced by another instance yesterday in Causeway Bay. But the latest accident still raises questions about the recently revamped tree regime. The government set up a tree management office following an inquest into the death of a student when an old tree fell in Stanley in 2008, again shortly after it had passed inspection. A coroner's jury found it was an accident that could have been prevented by a more professional inspection system.
On the face of it, after this week's accident, things have not got much better. One expert said the poinciana showed symptomatic signs of internal decay, such as dried branches. That said, the office has only been up and running for three months and has already identified about 2,000 trees in busy areas as unhealthy or at risk of infection. Meanwhile, some 2,200 staff have received training.
It may be too early to judge the revamp a failure. Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen has rightly ordered all departments to step up tree-management measures. He should treat seriously the criticism by a union official representing department staff that it lacks sufficient frontline staff and resources to inspect trees properly.