Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Just call him the Lone Bander

Volunteer single-handedly protects 2,700 trees against cankerworms

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IF Winnipeg escapes a cankerworm infestation next spring, residents might want to reserve special thanks for Ken Nawolsky.

The 43-year-old city employee recently completed the Herculean task of single-handedly banding more than 2,700 trees on the properties of the Winnipeg School Division, all on his own time.

Nawolsky, a volunteer for the environmental group the Coalition to Save the Elms, spent about three weeks banding every elm, ash and maple on the grounds belonging to the province's largest school division to protect them against cankerworms and disease-carrying beetles.

"I actually found it very therapeutic meeting people out in the community," Nawolsky said recently. "They were very enthusiastic. A lot of inner-city kids were really impressed and interested in what was going on and they were actually helping me, doing some of the banding. You could always see me. I'd be pulling a wagon and banding the trees. They'd want to help push the wagon or help put on the insulation and learn what the program is about."

Wrapping the trees with foil-backed insulation and then slathering the bands with a sticky substance called tanglefoot - a product of tree resin, wax and castor oil - used up Nawolsky's evenings and weekends from mid-August until early September.

The sticky bands capture female cankerworms traveling up a tree's trunk to devour leaves and, in spring, lay their eggs. They also impede Elm Bark beetles heading down the trunk to winter. The beetles can infect elms with Dutch Elm Disease.

The banding exercise was part of a larger -- and possibly unprecedented -- school division effort. The division completed a sweeping audit of its trees. It had a map drawn up of every elm, ash and maple -- 2,754 trees in total -- on the grounds of its 77 schools.

"Now, we actually have knowledge of where every tree is on our property," said Kristine Barr, chairwoman of the division's board of trustees. Just as importantly, school officials also now know the condition of the trees, Barr added.

The division, which stretches from Winnipeg's centre into the city's North End, to River Heights and even into St. James, hired the Coalition to Save the Elms to band all the mapped trees.

Enter Nawolsky, who tackled the job with fervor, said Samantha Mutchmor, the coalition's executive director.

"He was out there on his off-time," Mutchmor added. "He wanted to do it all himself and he did. He's really to be congratulated."

The school division has never before banded so many trees, Barr said. The division-wide effort replaced what was previously done on a school-by-school basis. Trustees have long argued for complete tree-banding, Barr said.

"I've been on the board for over eight years and every year the question of banding comes up," she added. "And there have been questions asked: 'But why aren't we doing this throughout our entire school division?' and 'What would the costs be?' We obtained those estimates and I think it's actually quite reasonable."

Banding cost the division $6.50 per tree. Barr said students have taken notice.

"I think students have a strong understanding of the importance of having healthy trees," she said. "When you look at the Winnipeg School Division and the fact that it is an older community and with trees that are very old, they can see the strength that those trees provide to a local neighbourhood."

Nawolsky, wearing a pedometer, estimated he walked about 95 kilometres in order to finish the school division job. Despite September's shorter days and cool weather, he hasn't finished with banding for the year.

He now believes he has banded about 4,000 trees, including those on residential properties.

"I don't know how to say no," he said with a chuckle.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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