Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Protecting the urban forest

  • Print

Winnipeg's canopy of trees, its urban forest, is in a slow decline. Last year, approximately 6,600 trees were lost, either due to disease, decay or for development purposes and about 4,000 of them were on private land. The city planted 1,500 trees on public land -- boulevards and parks.

On the plus side, there are an estimated eight million trees in Winnipeg, so from a bird's perspective there's still a lot of leafy greenery. The Dutch elm disease program has held down the annual toll of that scourge; the program is testament to the value of a dedicated, sustained and well-funded strategy -- those losses are replaced one for one on public property. The elm and its majestic canopy holds a special place in the city's landscape psyche.

That same story will not be written about Winnipeg's and Manitoba's ash trees. Winnipeg's estimated 280,000 ash trees are now the dominant species on the city's boulevards and in its parks. The emerald ash borer, which has decimated ash trees in Eastern Canada and the United States, is expected to make its voracious appearance in Manitoba shortly. (Traps are being set by the city and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to detect its arrival -- the borer can live in a tree for two years before noticeable symptoms appear so it may actually be here now.) But there is no good defence against the bug, except to remove the infected trees and hope its march is halted, although experience proves otherwise.

The only meaningful response to the infestation will be to cull the diseased trees and replant. That means protecting the urban forest will require more money for planting.

Winnipeg's forestry branch has only recently seen its budget approach meaningful levels. This year, some $8.68 million goes to planting, pruning and removing, $3.68 million of which is dedicated to the elms alone. Of the $5 million set aside for all other tree business, $800,000 is spent on replanting. To replant one tree for every one lost, that allotment would have to double. In 2011, the projection for the tree-planting budget is to rise to almost $2 million, but many more trees will be cut down because there will be more money to do that, as well.

And the cutting and replanting may lose ground on maintaining a healthy forest in Winnipeg if the speedy ash borer makes its appearance.

There are many reasons why the trees in Winnipeg have fallen so vulnerable to disease and infestation. Outside of the elm program, tree replanting has not been high on the priority list -- until recently, in fact, there has not been an inventory taken to know how many of which kinds of trees are in what state across the city. Emphasis is put on pruning and cutting trees to defend the health of the urban forest, and to keep property and people safe.

But the forestry branch is still trying to describe exactly how much of the urban forest is dead and dying. Further, there is no program to encourage or help fund replanting on private property, where most of the loss occurs. That is something Winnipeggers ought to think about, that city councillors should consider once the real toll of dying trees is known.

The emerald ash borer arrived in North America eight years ago, and for at least two years its appearance in Winnipeg has been thought imminent. The city is only now considering a mass public education campaign about the dangers of transporting wood, particularly firewood, and wood products across borders -- human transport of the borer rapidly increases its spread -- and how to detect the visible symptoms of infection.

Past planning errors, such as monoculture planting, have made Winnipeg's leafy canopy vulnerable. The emerald ash borer is simply the latest threat that is having its way with an urban forest. The battle against Dutch elm disease is a success, and is a model to follow in that it shows the value of vigilance and dedication.

As city council ramps up spending on taking down diseased trees, it must aim to replace them, one for one, with a new tree planted.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 2, 2010 A14

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Three injured in Sherbrook Street fire

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A gaggle of Canada geese goslings at Woodsworth Park in Winnipeg Monday- See Project Honk Day 05- May 07, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Perfect Day- Paul Buteux walks  his dog Cassie Tuesday on the Sagimay Trail in Assiniboine Forest enjoying a almost perfect  fall day in Winnipeg- Standup photo – September 27, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you think Doug McNeil is the right choice for CAO?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google