At least 300 combined years of natural growth will be snuffed out when the 15 elm trees testing positive for Dutch Elm disease this season are destroyed.
© Justin Crann
The avenues will look considerably different if Dutch Elm disease strikes. The disease, which is a developing issue for Moose Jaw, spreads quickly and can kill a mature elm tree in a season.
The trees — five in public spaces and 10 on residential properties — are the latest to be infected with the disease, which is a developing problem in the Friendly City.
"It's increasing. It's something we really have to be more vigilant about," said Daily Lennox, the city's parks gardener.
The disease is carried by the elm bark beetle, which most frequently targets elm trees that have recently been pruned by gardeners or defoliated by cankerworms.
In 2010 there were no cases of Dutch Elm disease found and in 2011 only one. Six more trees were infected in 2012.
Of the 15 found this year, three were found on a single block on Ominica Street East, "all in a row," said Lennox. A fourth was found on the same block in a homeowner's back yard.
Those trees were found in close proximity to a single infected tree last year. They had tested negative in 2012.
"In basically one full year, that block lost four trees in a row," she added. "There's a big hole on that street, now."
To combat a major outbreak, the city is stepping up its basal spraying program for elm trees.
Basal spraying is the process the city uses to exterminate the elm bark beetle.
"We did an extra 700 trees this year, and we targeted the areas where the positive trees had been," said Lennox. "We're hoping that creates a buffer zone."
Though the cause of the disease can't be directly pinpointed, there are a few theories — the foremost involving firewood from Buffalo Pound, which Lennox said is dealing with a "really severe" Dutch Elm disease outbreak.
"One of the main carriers is the beetles on firewood, but I'm not going to say that caused it," she said. "They could have come in from other places. Regina has Dutch Elm disease, as well. It's just that Buffalo Pound is our closest, and biggest, source.
"I can't blame it completely on firewood being brought in from the lake, but that's probably the main reason."
Lennox did note the possibility of human error in detecting the disease.
"Maybe (in 2010), we missed the infected trees in town and they were only caught the following year. It's hard to tell," she said. "Unless people see it, or I see it — and I go up and down every back alley and every street in town looking at elms … it would have just progressed and we'd only catch it the next year."
The disease is a major concern in Moose Jaw because many neighbourhoods are densely populated with elm trees.
"The avenues are all mostly elm. Picture them without any trees," Lennox explained. "Trees get the disease and they die within the year, basically. It doesn't drag on for years. You can lose a lot of trees in one year, and in one area."
And because the trees being killed are commonly mature trees, they are impossible to replace, she said.
"You can't just replace a mature tree. It takes years of growing and maintaining," said Lennox. "This is Saskatchewan … it takes a lot of work to grow a tree here."
Aside from the aesthetic and environmental impact, the disease also carries a heavy fiscal impact, she added.
"If a homeowner has to remove a tree because it tests positive, they have to cover the cost of a removal," said Lennox.
"People buy a house in the avenues because of the trees," she added. "When you lose a tree, to me, you're losing some of your property value."