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Concerns raised over cut of Saskatchewan's Dutch elm disease program

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Issue date: 
April 9, 2010
Publisher Name: 
Ottawa Citizen
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REGINA — Every time another elm tree becomes infected with Dutch elm disease (DED) and is cut down on Nathaniel Bowen's tree-lined street in Regina, he can't help but feel sad.

"It's hard to see 80 years of history wiped out by a DED infection," said the 30-year-old, who's seen two trees on his street in Lakeview fall victim to the disease. "I couldn't imagine how my street would look without them."

As an employee for Northern Tree Co. Inc., a residential tree care business based in Regina, Bowen was lost for words when he heard of the provincial government's recent decision to axe its DED program in the provincial budget.

Eliminating the program, which has been in place for about 20 years to combat the disease, will save the province about $500,000 per year.

Northern Tree Co.'s contract with the province had crews buzzing throughout southeast Saskatchewan, spraying healthy trees to keep beetle populations down. They also removed infected trees to keep the disease out of major urban centres.

Bowen said the program has shown results, with only two infected trees removed in Regina last year — a small drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of infected trees removed from the city's doorstep.

With the elimination of the program, Bowen can't help but fear the 60,000 American elms that make up more than 50 per cent of Regina's urban forest are now in jeopardy. The long-term costs of cancelling this program could also be huge, he added.

"It's not even a matter of the disease coming, it's already here. But it's been really well managed in Regina because this program has helped keep a large majority of the disease outside of Regina," said Bowen, who noted his employer won't suffer any financial implications as a result of the program elimination. "Without that buffer, who knows what's going to happen?"

Dutch elm disease is a fungus spread by elm bark beetles, which kills trees. Once the disease takes root, there is nothing to do but remove the sick trees immediately before it has a chance to spread.

Symptoms of the disease first appear in the crown of the tree in mid to late June. Then the leaves turn yellow, curl, and turn brown.

In Regina, the city is responsible for about 40,000 elm trees, and receives $22,000 from the province for monitoring, surveillance and pruning.

The good news, said Ray Morgan, manager of forestry, pest control and horticulture for the City of Regina, is the loss of funding can easily be absorbed into the city's budget.

The bad news is that the province was responsible for monitoring neighbouring areas, like Sherwood Forest, Qu'Appelle Valley and farm shelter belts, which Morgan said are largely infected.

"We are not concerned about our program, it's what's happening outside of Regina. When we are out, we are going to have to check some of these rural areas on our own time and our own dime," said Morgan. "It's a challenge to keep the trees growing in Regina. We put a lot of money into them to make sure they grow and we want to protect them as well. If we have to spend $50,000 extra dollars to help prevent it on our own budget, it's a worthwhile investment."

In Saskatchewan, the disease is confirmed in at least 25 communities in the southeast and northeast part of the province.

Alberta and B.C. are the only provinces that are currently free of the disease.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut