Watch your ash

Last night at the Ashdale Gerrard library Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon hosted a meeting for constituents concerned about the Emerald Ash Borer.

The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) doesn’t sound like a big deal. It’s a parasite that kills ash trees. I don’t want to sound cold-hearted, but they’re trees. Don’t we have bigger fish to fry in the city? Transit? Infrastructure? Housing?

And then I found out how many ash trees there are in the city. And how much dead ash trees cost the city. Ash trees are great for cities. They’re hardy. That’s why you’ll find them in those cement planters lining main streets like the Danforth. That’s why in a city of 10.2 million trees, 860 000 of them are ash. Ash makes up 26% of the city’s tree canopy.  We lose them, we lose more than a quarter of the city’s lush canopy.

Now, of those 860 000 ash trees, 40% of them are on public land (i.e. the city’s problem). Of those, 30% are large enough to be susceptible to the EAB. Even after this narrowing down, there are 80 000 trees on streets (which are handled differently than those in parks and ravines) that the city will either have to destroy to curb the EAB, or treat to outlast the EAB.

To the tune of $70 million dollars.

Seventy million dollars.

This is a huge deal. And professionals at the city’s offices have been researching options and pitching for funding for ten years, ever since the EAB infestation as really understood.

How bad is the EAB infestation? Bad enough to warrant $70 million in tree removal and treatment.

And that’s only the trees on public property. If you’ve got ash on your property, it’s your problem. If you love your ash and want to keep it, there are several options, and none of them cheap. The best treatment developed so far must be done by a professional every two years, and the cost varies on the dimension of the tree, but can be about $200. Every two years. Not as attached to your tree? If its trunk it more than 30cm in diameter, you need to apply for a permit to have it removed. And depending on its size, it won’t be a cheap option either.

What if you just let it get infected and die? Well, don’t do that. Because dead trees tend to fall and cause damage, and as the landowner, you’d be liable. If you let it die and then apply to have it removed, it’ll likely cost more than if you had had it removed while it was alive because of the added risk of limbs breaking.

That’s also why the city can’t just let all the ash trees die off. Dead trees fall over and cause damage. And you don’t want that happening all over the city, along our sidewalks and major roads.

So since this is something that’s going to cost the city $70 million, and something that could cost you a couple hundred dollars per ash on your property, you should really get informed. The city’s got a page about the EAB here and more about the Toronto Urban Forest here.

No, city politics isn’t all passionate deputations and budget protests. Sometimes it’s about informing citizens about big decisions that cost a lot of money, even if they aren’t sexy, and sound a little tree-hugger-y.

That $70 million figure keeps cropping up. Also, this is why we don’t plan monocultures, people.

Ironically, ash was planted in the wake of the Dutch Elm Disease, which had killed off elm. Elm had been planted as a monoculture too. It’s alright – the city has more than 34 different varieties of trees planned to replace the ash trees that get removed.

Yes monocultures look pretty and make our boulevards all uniform, but they are so much more susceptible to large-scale infestations like the EAB, which has infested, and killed, trees in every corner of the city. Yes. Yours.

So, get yourself informed, get in touch with your councillor, and spread the word. The EAB infestation has been talked about for ten years. Let’s get more people informed, stat.

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2 thoughts on “Watch your ash

  1. When i was working for the City of Mississauga I was doing field research looking for EAB for about 8 months, no it’s not a sexy issue, but other than tree removal and not transporting ash across city boarders (best way for it to spread) don’t waste your money on treatments, this will only prolonge the life of your tree up to 5ish years, and no it does not CURE it. Sitll all I can say is you would think the planners would learn after dutch elm that lining rows and rows of connecting streets with one tree species is so stupid and not typical of nature…which we should be replicating as much as possible. Hopefully…third times a charm?

    • Thanks for your comment! Some of the treatments mentioned by the City of Toronto staff certainly helped ash trees live beyond five years. I am no expert in the option, nor do I pretend to be! I truly hope individuals who have ash trees on their property take the initiative to learn about the options and make the best decision on how to handle it that they can. Here’s hoping the wide variety of trees that will be planted in lieu of new ash trees will help mitigate future infestations.

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