The city has launched its annual inspection of the city's elm trees, but it's much more than another rite of spring. It's really about preserving the very identity of the city.
A report two years ago warned that Winnipeg could eventually lose its entire elm tree canopy, partly because of the spread of Dutch elm disease, but also because many of the trees have reached maturity and are more than 100 years old and near the end of their lives. Of the roughly 140,000 elms in the city today, about 60,000 are classified as mature.
The city used to have about 300,000 elms until the dreaded disease carried by beetles hit the city in 1975 and began its rampage.
The city's green roof is still made up of the largest inventory of American elms anywhere in North America, but its a dwindling resource.
The city and province are spending nearly $4 million this year to protect the trees and cut down those that are diseased, but there's a sense that the devastation is only being slowed, and not eliminated.
The big trees are valued not just for their beauty and shade, but in the way they clean the air, interact with wildlife, modify the climate in summer and winter, reduce stress and improve property values. Their complete loss before new trees can mature would be devastating.
Imagine Winnipeg without its elms and you get the picture.