There is an old gas well sitting approximately 100 yards away from a well-know landmark in the M.D. of Bonnyville area down Highway 55. The 100-year-old Jack Pine goes by many names; the Crooked Tree, the Hanging Tree, the Leaning Tree, or the Lonely Tree. Michelle Schiller, who lives on the farm, states, “People drive by and say it looks so lonely by itself in the field, so it leans toward the treeline behind it”. This year is the tree’s 100th birthday.
The tree has survived a big fire that tore into Saskatchewan, periods of drought, and Michelle’s own grandfather. Schiller states, “many years ago, my grandpa was going to cut the tree down to work the field but the local neighbours came and approached him and asked him not to because it is such a lovely landmark.” Schiller has concerns about the survival of the tree because Canadian Natural Resources (CNRL) wants to covert the old gas well that was placed there in 1984 into a single battery bitumen well. Although CNRL is going to put in a berm and cement blocks to lessen the vibrations caused by the construction, Schiller is worried the vibrations from just putting those berms in might be enough to topple the tree. She adds, “After construction, the tree will be exposed to the vibrations and exhaust fumes coming from the tankers that empty the holding tanks.” Today, the tree is about 1 ½ feet from ground. Schiller says, “In the spring, it’s still got a decent size patch of green. It’s not dead.”
Schiller has lived on the land for twelve years; her sons are the fourth generation to know the tree, which is also her grandma’s memorial tree. When Schiller bought the farm, she got the lease that came with it. Her other concern is the lease’s proximity to the Beaver River. “My spouse works in the oil patch and I worked in the oil patch. I understand the importance of the oil field, but I also have concerns and think some areas should be preserved.”
Schiller tried to contact the organization which designated the tree with a Heritage Tree of Alberta plaque and featured it in a book entitled Heritage Trees of Alberta, but no one got back to her. When she dug into it further to see how first edition heritage trees in Alberta are protected, she realized there is not a lot of awareness about the group and not a lot of funding, which means no money to make laws to protect the trees.
Schiller is going into a hearing next month because she put in a statement of concern. The hearing takes place on March 6, 2018 at the Bonnyville and District Centennial Centre in Bonnyville at 9:00 AM. It will be streamed on the AER (Alberta Energy Regulator) website. If the outcome isn’t favourable for Schiller, it can be appealed. “I have hope,” said Schiller. “But the best outcome would be if CNRL just walks away.”