Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/3/2019 (305 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Flying into Winnipeg, it’s nice to see the canopy of trees above some parts of the city. The rich foliage in summertime makes Winnipeg look lush, like an oasis in the midst of sectioned farmland.
Perhaps we should take a picture from the jet window the next time we’re over the city. The picture will help us remember what the canopy used to look like.
The city budget that council will vote on Wednesday proposes to slash the funding of workers who care for the trees — a 36 per cent decrease in reforestation and urban forest enhancement. It comes at a time when foresters are in a desperate fight to protect Winnipeg’s urban forest from the death of hundreds of thousands of trees.
The effort to save this city’s 230,000 American elms, the largest population of such trees in North America, depends on city staff culling the 7,000 or so trees a year that have Dutch elm disease. Those are the ones marked for removal by fluorescent orange splotches. Even with its previous budget, the city’s forestry department couldn’t remove the infected elms soon enough. When diseased trees are not removed quickly, the disease spreads.
Then, in 2017, the emerald ash borer beetle arrived in Winnipeg. Pressure on the city’s forestry folks increased greatly. In other places, the dreaded borer has wiped out 100 per cent of ash trees. There’s about 350,000 ash trees in Winnipeg, and losing all of them will eliminate 30 per cent of the trees in Winnipeg parks and boulevards.
Unlike the city budget committee, not all Winnipeggers shrug off the plight of the forest canopy. We would miss these trees in many ways.
We would miss how trees moderate the extremes of climate. In summer, their shade cools parks and walking paths and can help cool our homes and yards if strategically planted. In winter, branches and trunks act as windbreaks.
People who live near rivers or in flood zones would miss the way trees lessen erosion and hold soil in place.
We would miss how trees help muffle the sounds of the city. Would you rather listen to the rustle of breeze blowing through leaves, or traffic noises from several blocks away?
It’s likely no one would miss the forest tent caterpillars that drop from trees onto human heads and clothing. But many homeowners would miss the increased property value that attractive trees add when it’s time to sell their homes.
We would miss trees as an ally in the fight against climate change. Trees absorb CO2 and particles of pollution, then emit pure oxygen. Munia Khan puts it like this: "Trees exhale for us so that we can inhale them to stay alive."
Birds, squirrels and bees would miss the homes provided by trees. When there are fewer of these creatures because there are fewer trees, the changes in animal population will affect other creatures up and down the food chain.
It’s like trees are ambassadors of nature. If we respect nature, if we want to stay in harmony with the living planet, we can’t ignore the dangers faced by the giant specimens that hover over our neighbourhoods.
We can take action in a couple of ways. We can lobby our city councillors and suggest their draconian cuts to the forestry budget are short-sighted, and we need to preserve the tree canopy for the next generation of Winnipeggers. Also, we can plant on private property. Dig a hole, plant a tree, water it. We can strengthen Winnipeg’s canopy one tree at a time.
Writing in Manitoba Gardener magazine, Kerienne La France recommends Winnipeg homeowners avoid adding to Winnipeg’s monoculture supply of elm and ash. Instead, plant trees such as hackberry, alder, butternut, buckeyes or Amur cork.
Some of us take trees for granted and don’t recognize how amazing it is to live beneath a canopy of giant plants. If we saw trees for the first time, we would be astounded.
This point was memorably made during a concert by the Jerry Cans at The Forks in the summer of 2017. Between songs, vocalist Andrew Morrison mentioned the band would sign autographs at a merchandise table set up under nearby trees, but he mentioned the band’s throat singer, Nancy Mike, wouldn’t be at the table. "She’s scared of trees." He explained that she was raised on tundra near Iqaluit, Nunavut, and saw her first tree when she was a teenager.
We don’t need to fear trees. But we should fear for them.
Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.
Senior copy editor
Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.