If you could have saved the mature elm trees of Toronto from the ravages of the Dutch elm disease, would you have done it?
If I offered you the chance to invest, say, $1,000 spread over six to eight years (approximately $150 a year) in return for $2,000 to $3,000, would you be interested?
If I told you that the oxygen that we breathe every day and the shade that we seek on a hot summer day is at risk of being depleted by up to 10 per cent within the next three to five years and that much of this depletion is completely avoidable, would you be concerned? Would you want to know more?
Only one of these questions is hypothetical and that is the first one.
We lost virtually all of our American elm trees in this city in the 1960s and ’70’s (except the beauties in front of the Manulife head office on Bloor St., curiously). There was no risk-free preventive measure that could have been taken at the time that the Dutch elm disease moved through Toronto.
This is not the case for the white, green and black ash trees that pepper the urban forest, line many of our streets and grace much of the private property.
The emerald ash borer is devastating the entire population of ash trees in southern Ontario. Within three to five years, all of the ash trees will be gone, the experts say. Dead. Ready to be cut down and disposed of.
The ash population represents about 8.5 per cent of our urban forest. That translates into about 400,000 trees on public land and another 600,000 on private real estate.
Ash have served us well as a hardwood tree that provides shelter for birds and other wildlife, the conversion of oxygen in the growing season and provide cooling shade in the heat of summer and gently filter warming sunshine into our lives in winter. They are clean, well-shaped landscape plants that are native to our area. No one could dislike an ash.
Unlike the American elm, the ash can be saved.
The popular garden/environmental writer and broadcaster Lorraine Johnson has a large 12-inch caliper ash standing on the street at the front of her home. This past year she paid to have the tree treated with a biological (safe) insect control called TreeAzin. It must be administered by a certified professional, not because it is toxic to humans or pets, but it requires training to administer the liquid by drilling into the tree trunk and injecting it with a rather sophisticated syringe.
Johnson called the city to see if there is a program to help homeowners with the process of treatment. The answer, in short, was no. Does the city have a list of recommended and qualified applicators? No.
We are on our own with this one folks. That is the bad news.
The good news is that if you choose to be proactive you can likely save your ash tree from the emerald ash borer.
Based on Johnson’s experience you can expect to pay about $225 to $275 for one treatment for a mature ash and the tree will need to be treated three to five times: once every couple of years until the bug has moved on, which it will after it devastates our ash tree population and runs out of food sources.
The upside of the treatment is that you get to keep your ash tree. In return for your investment and trouble, you will not have to pay to remove the existing tree when it is dead (a saving of up to $3,000) and you will not have to replace it (saving up to $500). Not to mention that you will not have to wait 30 to 40 years for the new tree to mature.
The treatment, TreeAzin, was developed in partnership with the Canadian Forest Service and the private company BioForest Technologies Inc. “TreeAzin has no adverse impact to the environment,” says Paul Bolan of Bio Forest. “The active ingredient in is azadirachtin, a derivative of the neem tree in Asia.”
Bolan adds that the cost of TreeAzin has dropped about 30 per cent since it was introduced in 2008, and with growing demand for the product in the future, lower costs are anticipated.
It is refreshing to hear of a new product that goes down in price while demand increases rather, than the other way around.
Why Not Act, Toronto?
Burlington, Oakville and Ottawa all have developed and implemented an aggressive EAB management strategy that promotes ash canopy preservation. These municipalities have no plans to preserve all the ash trees, however they have recognized the financial and environmental benefits of preserving high-value healthy ash trees.
When Mayor Rob Ford was alerted to the extent of the problem and the possibility of a solution through a communication to him and council by Bolan, the mayor’s office responded with this: “We are all in this together.” Had they added “Keep your stick on the ice,” we could easily imagine that it was Red Green himself that had answered the call.
We are fortunate here in Toronto to have a choice in this matter: we can act to minimize the problem of the EAB or we can ignore it and let it takes its course — and a million or so prized shade trees with it.
I must say that the optimist inside of me melts as I think about this. We need to get angry and to take action. We need to wake up to the fact that when we no longer care about the health and wellness of our mature trees, our city is on the slippery slope of decline. Our inaction has the making of urban decay, in earnest. Goodbye Toronto as we know it, hello Detroit.
I am not kidding.
The cities of Cleveland and Detroit no longer have this choice — their ash trees are beyond saving.
As the picture here illustrates, TreeAzin has been proven to work. It is listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) for use in organic crop production. It is the only pesticide used in North America against EAB that has this designation.
I have no interest in promoting the use of this product except for one thing: it has been proven to work and it provides the only solution to a pervasive and current problem.
In this case we can thank modern science for a solution.
For details on the product and a list of certified applicators go to www.bioforest.ca.
Johnson reminds us that “buyer beware” when shopping for a professional applicator as there are always some people who will take advantage. There is a comprehensive list of competent contractors on the LEAF website atwww.yourleaf.ca.
Perhaps by the time you get around to making some enquiries, Toronto will have acted and will be there to assist you in one way or the other.
When asked what he would do if he were the mayor, Bolan says, “In short, develop, implement and maintain an EAB management plan based on the most current science available. The study entitled ‘Coalition for Urban Ash Tree Conservation’ is a good place to start.”
It’s worth noting that Sandy Smith, the University of Toronto’s dean of forestry, recently became a signatory to the document. “I support the coalition because they are taking a comprehensive, planned approach to this looming EAB problem facing cities like Toronto,” she told me.
The EAB is moving throughout the province and no ash tree will be spared without action on our part. If you really care about the impact I strongly urge you to ask your councillor and your mayor this question: “What are we doing to combat this problem?”
And if you get an answer that uses the budget as an excuse for inaction, well, now you have the numbers.
Let me know how you do.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. You can sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.markcullen.com, and watch him on CTV Canada AM every Wednesday at 8:45 a.m. You can reach Mark through the “contact” button on his website and follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. Mark’s latest book, The Canadian Garden Primer, is available at Home Hardware and all major bookstores.