East Ottawa homeowner questions ash tree diagnosis

Ottawa homeowners are responsible for removing trees infested with the invasive Emerald Ash Borer from their properties, but few people know when a tree is in danger.

A homeowner in Orleans is worried ash trees in the city might fall to chainsaws before they've even been infested by the emerald ash borer.

The city has been waging a war against the invasive beetle since it first appeared in Ottawa in 2008. 

Staff members have been targetting trees for removal on public property, which are either heavily-infested or structurally unstable, and they are also trying to treat select trees with a natural biological insecticide called TreeAzin.

But Ottawa homeowners are responsible for removing infested ash trees on their own properties and few have the experience or expertise to know when a tree is in danger.

'Your ash tree is dying,' flyer says

When Orleans resident Phil Desmarais got a letter in his mailbox telling him his tree was dying, he said he was skeptical.

"Your ash tree is dying from the Emerald Ash Borer beetle," it read. "To cut & dispose of your tree on your property we estimate $500 + tax." The quote also promised to underbid any competing offer.

"I had it looked at last summer and it seemed to be fine. So I was very upset that I was getting a quote to cut down a perfectly healthy tree," said Desmarais.

Urban forester Ian Nadar, who used to be in charge of forestry at the National Capital Commission, and then for Rochester, New York, had a look at the tree. He said it was healthy.

"Look at the tree, the whole crown, the size of the buds are equal everywhere," said Nadar.

An unhealthy tree has few buds at the top, D-shaped holes in the bark, and will sprout branches near its base in a last-ditch effort to survive, said Nadar.

Flyer 'a precaution,' landscaper says

Denis Courville left the quote at Desmarais's home, and other homes in Orleans and Blackburn Hamlet.

He admits the flyer should not have stated Desmarais's tree is dying, but says the beetle's destruction is approaching.

"In the same neighbourhood where I pass all these flyers a lot of trees were affected by that beetle which there were signs.

"Perhaps there was no sign now to their tree, but there probably will be this summer. But it's just a precaution to notify people that there is a problem about this beetle," said Courville.

"It's like a guessing game. Are they going to attack the whole neighbourhood slowly, or fast?" said Courville.

Nadar, the forester, said he hadn't seen evidence of emerald ash borer within a half kilometre circle of Desmarais's Northampton Drive home.

Desmarais is concerned healthy trees on private property may be cut unnecessarily if homeowners don't perform due diligence.

"We get quotes all the time for asphalt fixing but to take down a tree — if it's healthy —it's just wrong," he said.

Plant new trees, suggests forester

Ash trees makes up about a quarter of the forest cover in the city.

The ash borer feeds on the bark of ash trees. It was first noticed in North America in 2002 and has killed millions of trees in Ontario and the United States.

Trees infested with the beetle's larvae can lose half their branches within a year and usually die within two to three years.

Nadar suggests homeowners with ash trees plant replacement trees now and give them a chance to grow.