Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Chris Freund leaves places greener than he found them.
As the arborist for the City of Steinbach, Freund is responsible for planting new trees in public parks and boulevards and keeping established ones happy and healthy.
Spring is an especially busy time of year for Freund, who became a certified arborist in 2015 after accruing the work experience needed to write an exam at the University of Manitoba.
He spent the next four years doing tree care independently before becoming the city’s first arborist last July.
Upon arriving in the role, Freund found there was plenty to do. The first five years of a tree’s growth are crucial to its development, and city staff had planted many trees in recent years. That made maintenance a top priority.
"There were certain areas in need of a little more attention," he said.
Freund knew a thing or two about trees long before he became an arborist.
"I’ve kind of always worked in trees," he said.
His parents, Cliff and Dorothy Freund, run CD Trees, a popular Christmas tree farm south of Steinbach. As a teenager, Freund helped customers pick out the perfect Scotch pine, white spruce, or balsam fir.
After a stint in the Alberta oil and gas industry, Freund returned to Steinbach. He now lives just outside the city with his family.
Freund spent this past winter planning out the city’s aggressive planting program. Workers will plant some 270 trees this year alone.
Most will be placed along Main Street, in the Lexington Village neighbourhood, near Clearspring Middle School, and in various ‘pocket parks’ around the city.
The parks and recreation department has no shortage of helping hands this summer, due to the redeployment of aquatic centre staff during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Freund spent late winter and early spring pruning, which must be done before any new growth appears. In addition to shaping younger trees, he cleans up mature trees that experience die-back over the winter.
The snowstorm last Thanksgiving "created a busy week for us," he recalled.
Freund’s goal is to inspect every public tree in Steinbach on a three to five-year rotation.
Fresh air is a perk of the job. Freund said he doesn’t mind planning and paperwork, but enjoys tasks that take him out of his office in the city’s operations centre on Millwork Drive.
"It’s more fun being out there anyway," he said.
Working with trees gives him a different lens on the city’s growth. The lifespan of a tree has a way of putting things into perspective.
"I think the aspect I like the most is the time aspect," he said, pointing out that K.R. Barkman Park is shaded today because of decisions made decades ago.
"I’m out there doing the same for the next generation," Freund said.
Last week found him overseeing the removal of 36 ash trees along Main Street beset by the cottony ash psyllid.
The aphid-like bug targets black and Manchurian ash and some hybrids.
American elm, a fast-growing tree that does well in urban environments, will replace the ash.
"I think they’re just perfect for Main Street," Freund said.
What worries Freund the most isn’t the cottony ash psyllid, or even Dutch elm disease. It’s the emerald ash borer.
The metallic green beetle attacks virtually all North American varieties of ash, and has already been detected in Winnipeg and Minnesota.
Adult borers munch harmlessly on foliage, but the inch-long white larvae can kill a mature ash tree in one to four years.
Insecticide injections are somewhat effective against the pest, but are costly and must be repeated every few years.
Freund is bracing for the borer’s arrival in Steinbach by formulating a response plan and completing a tree inventory.
"Emerald ash borer is just decimating forests, and we have a lot of ash trees in Steinbach," he said.
Precisely how many is unknown, but in 2017, Russ Dyck, head of the city’s parks and recreation department, estimated more than 1,000 ash trees had been planted in Steinbach.
According to Manitoba Climate and Conservation, ash comprise 30 percent of urban forests in Manitoba.
The city began phasing out ash plantings in 2017. The following year, provincial forest health technicians hung traps in Steinbach as part of a monitoring program aimed at catching the borer’s presence early.
Freund said the situation presents an opportunity to diversify the city’s tree canopy to minimize the impact of future diseases or pests.
"The monocultures are tough. As soon as you get an infestation, you really do lose a lot."
Detection efforts are ongoing and will include branch sampling later this summer to check for the telltale S-shaped crevices that appear beneath the bark of affected ash.
In the meantime, Freund has convinced city council to amend the manual governing standard design and construction specifications for public works. Ash were removed from a list of tree varieties approved for boulevard plantings during a committee meeting last Tuesday.
"It was clear to us that ash needed to be taken out of that," Freund said. "For any planting project, we’ll limit any one species to one-third (of trees planted)."
Manitoba maple, silver maple, bur oak, shooting star pin oak, American elm, triumph elm, American linden, littleleaf linden, prairie horizon alder, and delta hackberry will instead be used.
In parks, Freund said he gravitates toward planting varieties native to Manitoba, like oak, pine and hackberry.
The city sources its trees from private nurseries, and wasn’t affected by the 2018 closure of Pineland Forest Nursery near Hadashville.
Freund’s job also includes a public education component. If it weren’t for the pandemic, he’d be distributing seedlings to schoolchildren. He hopes to organize a field day so the kids can plant the seedlings themselves.
City residents can also contact Freund with questions about tree care.
"I’m always happy to help out," Freund said.
This article is the first installment in a series exploring the work of staff in various City of Steinbach departments. Look for future installments throughout June and July.
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