Weathering the storm
City’s tree canopy pummelled by ‘unprecedented’ snowfall
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/10/2019 (1140 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Trees across Winnipeg took a beating when the city received an “unprecedented” amount of snowfall leading up to the Thanksgiving weekend. Northeast neighbourhoods were no exception.
Across Winnipeg, it is estimated that 30,000 trees on City property were damaged. At press time, the City did not have data available on how many trees were reported damaged within each City ward. A press release did note that core areas and mature neighbourhoods were at greater risk due to the size and age of the trees in those areas.
Even more trees on private property were damaged by the heavy snowfall, which weighed down branches of elm, ash, and other deciduous trees that had not yet lost their leaves in the fall.
“The timing of this storm has been significant, because a lot of our canopy was still in leaf,” said Martha Barwinsky, the City’s top forester, on Oct. 17. “So we had freezing rain on those leaves, creating heavier weight, coupling that with additional snow and high winds.”
As a result of the storm, approximately 7,000 city residents were also without power for periods of time over the Thanksgiving weekend, including many throughout northeast Winnipeg, some for days.
On Oct. 15, mayor Brian Bowman declared a local state of emergency, in part to allow the City “to gain access to private property in order to deal with public trees that have fallen onto private property, and private trees that have fallen onto public property.”
“It has been a busy weekend trying to determine depth of damage,” Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) said. “We were luckier than some areas, though there are still branches to come down.”
“We’ve got extreme, critical safety issues addressed on regional and collector streets, so now we’re moving into the second phase in addressing broken and hanging branches,” Barwinksy said.
Over the past few years Glenelm, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in northeast Winnipeg, lost hundreds of elm trees to Dutch elm disease. To combat the loss of the tree canopy, the Glenelm Neighbourhood Association applied for funding through the community incentive program, which Coun. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan) granted, to help replace the lost trees. The $53,000 in funding allowed the group to plant 59 new trees on boulevards in the neighbourhood at the end of September.
According to Emma Durand-Wood, a member of GeNA’s tree committee, most or all of the new trees survived the snowstorm.
“I’m thinking that because they have relatively few leaves and the branches are still fairly vertical and flexible, they were spared, thank goodness,” she said.
The same, however, could not be said for the neighbourhood’s more mature trees.
“Some major breakage and lots of big branches down on the boulevard, I’m thinking we will probably lose at least a handful of mature trees,” Durand-Wood said.
“We estimate it will take approximately a year to clean everything up,” Barwinsky said. “And then we’re looking at the recovery of our canopy as well, which could take up to five years to get these trees replaced, considering we have a lot of other trees to replace as well.”
The damage to the city’s trees should give policy makers pause, Nason believes.
“We need to do a bit of reflection as to why this happened, once we’re out of the emergency situation, and do a better job for our urban forest,” Nason said.
“I think this storm will be a defining moment for urban forestry in the city,” she said. “Let’s hope it spurs action towards more investment rather than nudging the city towards further abdication of its responsibilities.”
For more information, visit winnipeg.ca/treeremoval
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112