The Dutch elm disease has killed more than 6,000 elm trees in Winnipeg this year alone, a significant number that’s the result of funding cuts by the municipal government.
Earlier this year, the City of Winnipeg slashed $1 million in funding for preventing the disease, which can be easily transferred by the elm bark beetle. Due to these cuts, the city’s forestry crews were unable to cut down the infected trees before the disease spread.
“Winnipeg has been known to have some of the most virulent strains of Dutch elm disease known,” said City of Winnipeg forester Martha Barwinsky, in an interview with the CBC.
“We’re all concerned. That’s a lot of trees. We haven’t seen the 6,000 mark for about 10 or 12 years.”
Many of the trees infected have been found on private property. The City of Winnipeg is urging homeowners to monitor their trees for the disease, which can be characterized by branches and leaves starting to wither in June to August, before the natural leaf shedding in autumn. As the disease spreads throughout the branches, the roots begin to die from a lack of nutrients.
The disease is caused by a fungus spread by the elm bark beetle, which burrows deep into the tree’s bark. Although sometimes pruning and vaccination can treat the fungus, trees need to be cut down completely if the infection has progressed too far.
Manitoba has the largest population of American elm trees in all of North America, partially thanks to funding by the provincial and local governments. Trees Winnipeg, a coalition that first formed in 1992 to save the city’s elm trees, has said if these programs were “discontinued or partially reduced to allow even a doubling of the annual elm loss rate, the result would be catastrophic.”
Despite the 6,000 cuts, the city still has about 232,000 elm trees, which is more than previously predicted.
Indigenous to Manitoba, the American elm tree is suited for urban life because of its resilience against harsh climates and tolerates road salt in the winter.
In 1990, the city was forced to cut down 10,000 elm trees due to the disease. And last year, the beloved Grandma Elm, the massive tree founds in Assiniboine Park, was chopped down after it tested positive for the disease.