Group calls for replanting in wake of ash borer devastation

Simcoe Reformer’s Daniel Pierce interviews OUFC

A provincewide group is calling for Queen’s Park and Ottawa to fund the replanting of trees along streets and in parks in towns and cities across Canada in the wake of the devastation caused by the emerald ash borer.

“We’re recognizing this is going to cost municipalities millions of dollars,” said Toni Ellis, president of the Ontario Urban Forest Council. “Trees will have to be taken down and replanting done. We thing that given the value of trees, the province and the feds should jump in.”

Canada, Ellis said, is the only country in the G-8 that doesn’t fund “urban forest” projects on an ongoing basis, leaving the financial burden on town halls.

“It’s all on the backs of municipalities,” she said in an interview. “When the emerald ash borer sweeps in, the cost is staggering.”

The pest first came to Ontario through Windsor several years ago and has been spreading its way eastward, chewing up and killing off thousands of ash trees along the way.

It arrived in Norfolk County — one of the most heavily forested areas in southern Ontario — about four years ago and has moved east of Toronto and has been found in Ottawa and parts of Quebec.

After it was found near Turkey Point, Norfolk County took pre-emptive action and embarked on a campaign of thinning out stands of ash trees to slow the bug’s progress.

The council, a non-profit organization “dedicated to the health of urban forests,” estimates the total damage from the pest in Canada will amount to $2 billion.

Municipal governments, Ellis noted, are shouldering the expense of cutting down infected trees, disposing of them, and replanting.

A treatment to protect trees from dying has been developed — a chemical is injected into the trunk — but it costs $300-$400 per large tree and lasts for only two years at a time, she said.

“Protecting the trees we have is so important. It’s hard to get new trees started,” she explained.

In February, Ellis’s group sent a notice to Ontario’s 440 municipal councils asking them to back a resolution that calls for provincial and federal governments to establish “urban forestry mandates and programs which includes funding assistance . . . for the control of and management of the Emerald Ash Borer and any future significant imported diseases and insects.”

Norfolk County council voted to back the resolution at its last meeting.

Peter Wynnyczuk, the council’s treasurer, said the resolution is also meant to be a warning to communities that have yet to be hit by the borer.

“We want to raise awareness before trees start falling over,” Wynnyczuk said in an interview. “We’re just trying to get the message out.”

The pest, he added, is also “a significant issue for conservation authorities and school boards,” both of which will also receive the letter in the future.

Urban trees are important to the health of communities because they hold storm water, clean the air, and provide shade and cooling for people and buildings, Ellis said.

Steve Scheers, Norfolk’s superintendent of forestry and cemeteries, could not be reached for comment.

Daniel R. Pearce

519-426-3528 ext. 132