Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grandma Elm removed to protect other trees in park

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GRANDMA Elm is down.

The old elm tree in Assiniboine Park was cut down Tuesday 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 Tuesday 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 to 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.

"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.

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.

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.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2014 B1

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Updated on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 7:16 AM CDT: Adds video, replaces photo

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