Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Goodbye time for Grandma Elm

Dutch elm disease claims Assiniboine Park fixture

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Grandma Elm is down.

The old elm tree in Assiniboine Park was cut down this morning after testing positive for Dutch elm disease.

The big old tree near the Assiniboine River footbridge was a favourite meeting spot for generations of park visitors.

Even the man who wielded the chain saw today said he felt a range of emotions as the tree crashed to the ground.

"I've been playing in this tree since high school. We used tp play Frisbee here in the '70s... for me, I've had a lot of great times in this tree," said Dave Lutes, who works for Tree Wise.

"I'm a Native Indian, indigenous to here. Every time i do something like this, I have to put my mind somewhere else and feel like I'm doing something that has to be done.

"Getting rid of this one really does help a whole vast pile of other trees in the area."

Indeed, chopping it down is a last resort and the right thing to do for the sick old tree and to preserve the health of the younger ones, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy says.

'We know Grandma Elm is special and the source of some great memories for park visitors, so we wanted to let people know why we have to remove the tree'

"When possible, we use selective pruning and vaccination to try to prevent infection, but sometimes, when the disease has progressed too far, complete removal of the tree is necessary in order to prevent Dutch elm disease from spreading," Kaaren Pearce, director of grounds for the conservancy said in a prepared statement.

Twelve trees have been identified as being infected by the disease this year and will be removed as soon as possible. The park is trying to prevent what happened last fall in Kildonan Park, said Don Peterkin, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy's chief operations officer. Kildonan Park experienced the worst Dutch elm disease attack in recent memory, with 100 elms cut down.

"We've been more and more diligent," said Peterkin at Assiniboine Park.

On average, they've removed two or three trees a year over the past five years, he said. This year there were a baker's dozen -- Grandma Elm plus 12 others.

It's not that the disease is getting worse, the park and the city are being more vigilant in identifying sick trees quickly and getting rid of them.

"As soon as we see the first signs of Dutch elm disease, we're asking 'Is that what we're looking at or not?' " said Peterkin.

The first sign is a branch high up in the tree with yellow, wilted leaves that start to defoliate, he said.

Carol Skimming, 46, said her goodbyes to the tree Monday evening along with Cory and Ryan Buchanan. She said she's seen the tree for about 45 years, and has been coming to it since she was a year old with her mother.

"She died around Christmastime when I was 10, so this kind of represents her in a way," Skimming said.

"I wish they could have done more to keep it."

Ryan Buchanan said he's also sad to see the tree go. For him, it represents the memories he's made in the area, especially on Canada Day.

"This is one of my favourite trees in the park... It's just a sad day for Winnipeg, I think," Buchanan said.

Dutch elm disease is caused by a fungus spread by elm bark beetles that burrow under the tree's bark to lay their eggs. If untreated, the fungus can spread quickly, essentially cutting off a tree's circulation system and eventually killing it, the conservancy said.

In an average year, the city losses add up to 5,600 elms. Those 5,600 amount to 1.5 per cent of the city's annual elm canopy in each of the last 30 years, the City of Winnipeg says.

Quick removal of diseased trees and symptomatic branches is necessary in managing this disease, the conservancy says. Removal of the damaged parts reduces breeding sites for the elm bark beetle and removes the fungus from the area.

On Monday, the conservancy sent out a press release saying "Grandma Elm is a very old tree at the end of its natural lifespan and too diseased to save.

"We know Grandma Elm is special and the source of some great memories for park visitors, so we wanted to let people know why we have to remove the tree."

When one tree is removed, two more are planted, said Peterkin with the conservancy.

"We're going to try and plant as many different species as we can to have a more diverse tree collection," he said. "Most don't have the size and longevity" of the stately elms, though, said Peterkin.

Winnipeg, more than any other city on the continent, can still enjoy the shade and majesty of its many towering elms.

"Winnipeg has more elms left than any city in North America," said Peterkin. Now the conservancy is planting new types of elms it hopes are survivors.

"Newer selections of elm seem to show very good resistance to Dutch elm disease," he said. The park has planted close to 200 of them, he said.

"Will it form the elm canopy of the next 100 years? Maybe."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2014 A2

History

Updated on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 7:47 AM CDT: Replaces photo

7:52 AM: Adds photo

11:00 AM: Updates with tree cutter's comments.

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