By Martha Barwinsky, Supervisor of Forestry and DED Operations, City of Winnipeg Regional Representative Prairies Region

All of the major cities and many smaller cities and towns across the Prairie Region have active urban forestry programs tied in with active public awareness and education. Each province has at least one regional urban forestry community group or NGO. Invasive pests, particularly Dutch elm disease, are big drivers of these NGO’s and of many of the municipal and city urban forestry programs. Considering the lack of tree species diversity compared to other parts of Canada, the prairies are exposed to a higher impact of losses due to species-specific invasive pests.

Alberta continues to be free of Dutch elm disease with active monitoring programs throughout the province via a long-standing partnership between Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Society to Prevent Dutch Elm Disease (STOPDED). STOPDED is the NGO that administers and manages the provincial DED prevention program in Alberta. This program has also been monitoring for other DED vectors, and through these efforts, banded elm bark beetle (BEBB) was discovered in Medicine Hat in 2006. The BEBB population has been increasing and spreading in the province since the first finding.

STOPDED has also partnered with CFIA in emerald ash borer (EAB) monitoring. Olds College entered into this partnership to curate a collection of wood boring insects for the Invasive Alien Wood Boring Insects Project. STOPDED is also working to have EAB included in the Alberta Agricultural Pests Act and Regulations.

In Saskatchewan, Dutch elm disease is an ongoing concern. Overall, the provincial Ministry of Environment supports communities with active DED management with buffer zones around 7 communities. Urban and rural municipalities outside these buffer zones are responsible for their own programs. SOS Elms is the NGO providing some support to communities. In July 2015, Saskatoon had their first case of DED identified by surveillance staff in a Siberian elm. The city responded promptly to implement their DED response plan, quickly remove the infected tree and followed up with enhanced monitoring and surveillance.

Other urban forestry activities in Saskatoon include updating current tree inventory system including mapping, working on recommendations for a tree protection by-law, continued development of DED management strategy and budget, and improving soil management in new neighbourhoods for tree planting sites.

In Regina, DED is still the number one concern as the city continues to keep infection rates low. Other urban forestry activities in Regina include capturing GIS data on the trees the city maintains, reviewing and updating a 15 year old urban forest strategy to reflect the community planning document for the city (Design Regina), and reviewing current Forestry By-law.

In Manitoba, the Province launched the Manitoba Heritage Tree Program in 2015, under the authority of the Forest Health Protection Act, to recognize trees with exceptional significance to Manitobans in order to promote public awareness of the environmental, cultural, social and historic importance of trees and forests. The program is administered under a partnership agreement between the province, Trees Winnipeg and Manitoba Forestry Association. Anyone can nominate a tree online via the Manitoba Tree Register.

DED management is quite active in Manitoba. The province has changed their DED cost-sharing agreements with municipalities, whereby the province will continue DED surveillance but the municipalities now have the responsibility to complete the necessary elm removals with funding support from the province. Historically, the province has removed the elms with provincial operations staff. The intent of the province is to support communities to take a more active role in developing and managing their own urban forestry programs.

In 2015, Winnipeg experienced its highest incidence of DED in 16 years with 6,520 elms marked for removal. The City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba continue to work in close partnership to identify improvements to DED management.

To supplement the City of Winnipeg Public Tree Inventory and update the inventory of elms as they relate to DED management, Winnipeg completed an elm inventory on private properties and in natural areas in 2015 – the overall inventory of American elms on public and private property in the city is now estimated to be over 236,000. An inventory of ash trees on private properties and in natural areas has begun in 2016 to continue to prepare for emerald ash borer.

The City of Brandon is developing an urban forest strategy. Brandon also continues to recover from damages from the major Assiniboine River flooding in 2011 and again in 2014.

EAB monitoring is active in Manitoba in partnership with the province, CFIA, City of Winnipeg and Trees Winnipeg.

There are a number of concerns across the prairie region related to urban forestry that most likely resonate across Canada:

  • The ongoing threat of invasive pests and the limited resources allocated to pest monitoring efforts for entry on plant material. As the prairie conditions limit tree species diversity, there is an ongoing concern regarding limited options for replacements.
  • Quality of nursery stock and soil conditions in new developments. A variety of practitioners and municipal urban forestry programs continue to work together to influence improvements in these areas. Related to these subjects, as we see increased urbanization and urban sprawl, budgets are not increasing to manage the increasing inventories
  • As development continues to increase, existing trees are at risk, hence the concern for tree protection in the form of by-laws, guidelines and/or specifications. A number of prairie cities and towns have some form of tree protection or preservation by-law although most address public trees only. Related to this subject is better collaboration for tree protection during construction and tree replacements following construction, especially in downtown areas and commercial districts.

In the next five years in the prairie region we hope to see:

  • More communities with tree inventories and urban forest plans, including plans for invasive pests
  • Greater recognition of the value of our canopy and accompanying budgets
  • Improved collaboration with municipal departments to protect trees and ensure trees are, at a minimum, being replaced in appropriate sites.

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