Ash trees face invading beetle

In 10 years, 80 percent of the trees in Guildwood Village will be gone, Toronto parks and recreation chair Norm Kelly says.

That’s because they’re ash trees and are under attack by a foreign enemy.

[iframe: src=”http://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?client=safari&oe=UTF-8&ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=203227612973346244654.0004a1487a7e0650840c0&source=embed&ll=43.746545,-79.191513&spn=0.009301,0.012875&z=15&output=embed” width=”350″ height=”300″ scrolling=”no” frameborder=”0″]

“In 2007, we picked up the existence of the emerald ash borer,” Kelly said. “This is a little tiny beetle about a quarter to a half an inch that landed on our shores … about roughly 2002 to 2003. [It] came over from China.

The emerald ash borer is a narrow, hairless, metallic blue-green beetle. The adult ash borer eats the leaves of ash trees while its larvae bore through the bark.

“It’s terrible. The value of those ash trees are about a billion dollars,” Kelly said. “So all we can do is tell people, ‘Hey, this is what’s going to happen.’ Some neighbourhoods are going to be devastated.”

Kelly estimated there are about 804,000 ash trees in Toronto. Many were planted 40 years ago because they are “beautiful” and because they grow quickly.

“I think [the public] will be dismayed,” he said. “A lot of Scarborough, for example, a lot of the subdivisions that were built 30 or 40 years ago now have beautiful, mature ash trees on the boulevards. And you drive through these neighbourhoods and it’s very attractive.

“Well, they’ll be gone in 10 years.”

“It’s going to take a ton of money to take the trees down and it’s going to take a ton of money to replant.”

According to Lorne Bertrand of Eastern Tree Removal Company, trees can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 to remove.

“It depends on the size and location [of the tree],” Bertrand said.

City council decided April 12 that Toronto is going to cut down the ash trees.

Kelly estimated the cost to take all the affected trees down will be at least $1 billion.

“Right now we don’t have the money for it,” he said. “We are already three quarters of a billion dollars in debt, so this couldn’t have come at a worse time. We will need to get help from the other two levels of government.

“Some of the members of the parks committee said, ‘Well, what are we doing to contain the spread of the disease?’ And the answer is: You can’t. The ash trees are gone. Kiss them goodbye.”

There are some weapons the city can use to combat the bug in the strongest ash trees, Kelly said.

“We’re going to try to save the healthiest and the most prominent ash trees on public property, but everything else goes,” he said.

To help the public with the cost, the City of Toronto will waive the tree-cutting bylaw, which comes with a $100 application fee and mandates an arborist examine the tree to be cut.

“It’s an unexpected cost for the city and for property owners, and we’re going to have to find the money that isn’t being used to cope with this,” Kelly said.

It costs $100–$200 to plant a new tree through Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests (LEAF), a non-profit organization “dedicated to the protection of  urban forests”. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is also offering compensation for people faced with tree removal.

Tom Sachdeva, a real estate agent who has been selling houses in the Guildwood area for the last seven years, is facing a different set of problems.

“Once the trees are gone, nobody’s going to buy,” he said. “That’s what’s keeping the values high in Guildwood. And it’s a mature community with a lot of trees.”

The city plans to plant a variety of new trees in affected areas that do not have any known parasites.