Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Couple of Lessons I Hope We Learn from Last Week's Storm

Last Wednesday afternoon I was working on a broken lawnmower in my backyard when I noticed the sky to the north west getting dark, very quickly.  Then there was some thunder, and the wind rose.  And the rain started.  I ran into the house to close the windows that were all wide open because of the heat of the last couple of days.

Ten minutes later, the storm was over, and the sun came out again.  But those few minutes had made a real mess of the Midtown area.  The wind had been so strong that the umbrella on the deck had been lifted right out of the table and turned upside down.  The garbage and recycling bins were blown over.  The yard and deck were covered with small branches from the poplar and maple trees in the backyard.

However, compared to some places around the neighbourhood, we were only lightly touched.  Along the streets, large branches, mostly from overmature Manitoba maples, had come down on the street or were blocking the sidewalks.  In front of Ecole Valois, a maple tree had broken off right at the ground, and over on 9th Street, another maple tree had broken off at the ground.

I had a close look at the tree in front of the school - it was full of red rot.  Thirty years ago when we first moved into this house, there was a large Manitoba maple in the south west corner of the front yard that was showing signs of decay - large conks and dead branches.  Andrea diagnosed red rot, and when I cut it down, it proved to be the case.

That's the thing with trees - by the time they show outward signs of decay, it's probably far advanced, and the best thing to do is just take down the tree.  And you can walk along any street in Midtown, and see the symptoms of red rot on the maples that are planted along the boulevards (and in many yards, too).  Conks, dead branches, new growth sprouting up at the base of the tree.  All of these are symptoms of a tree that is rotten at the core.

Unfortunately, the city's response, when I try to bring their attention to the problem, is to send out a crew that usually just prunes off the dead branch.  This does not solve the problem, in fact, it makes it worse.  Not only is the tree further weakened, and a new opening made for infection, but the problem is still there.  Either more branches will start to die, bringing on more temporary fixes, or, as happened with last week's storm, branches or the tree itself will come down.  When that happens, at best crews have to go out to pick up the mess.  At worst, the tree damages private property, leaving the city liable for damages.

In any case, it doesn't take too much common sense to realize that fixing the problem by removing the dying tree the first time will save time, money, and potentially higher future costs, because the crew only has to make one trip.  Of course, replanting the tree should also be a no-brainer, although right now, the policy is that the city only plants a new tree if residents request it.  And far too often, the species that is planted is Manitoba maple, a tree that has a relatively short life span compared to ash or elm, the other trees that are commonly planted on the boulevard.

I've suggested on more than one occasion that the city needs to do a better job of managing its urban forest, but without much success.  It was small consolation last week when one of my councillor colleagues sent out an email after the storm - "I guess Atkinson was right about those trees."

I hope that administration takes the opportunity to rethink their strategy on dealing with dying trees.  It's not too complicated - if a tree is showing symptoms of rot, that means it's rotten.  Cut the tree down, plant one in its place, and we'll be well on the way to maintaining the health of our urban forest, which adds so much to the quality of life in a city.  Continue to think that cutting off dead branches is the solution, and watch the damage continue to increase.  The choice seems pretty simple to me.

"If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?" - John Wooden

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