UPEI to use Dutch elm disease vaccine

A new way to fight Dutch elm disease has come to Prince Edward Island — a vaccine that can be injected into the trees with a needle.

A new way to fight Dutch elm disease has come to Prince Edward Island  — a vaccine that can be injected into the trees with a needle.

"Up until this year in Canada, all you really could do was keep your trees healthy, keep them free of deadwood, and early detection and removal," Kurt Laird, a certified arborist, said Tuesday.

But Laird will soon have a new weapon, a vaccine that works like a human flu vaccine to fight Dutch elm disease which is carried by beetles, and keeps trees from getting the nutrients they need to survive.

Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency approved the vaccine last fall for use in this country, although it has been used in Europe since 1992 and the United States since 2005.

Last June, the vaccine was tested on 200 healthy trees in Winnipeg, the first national test site.

"This is something that's non-chemical," said Laird, who has been hired by the University of Prince Edward Island to vaccinate more than two dozen trees on campus.

"They call it a bio-vaccine. Now we can inject this into small amounts into the tree. It raises the natural antibodies and resistance to Dutch elm in the tree. And the tree can fight off the Dutch elm disease."

The Dutch elm vaccine, called Dutch Trig, was created at the University of Amsterdam. The company that makes it says if trees are injected once a year, they will be 99 per cent protected from the disease.

"It will hopefully alleviate Dutch elm disease all together, especially with a 99 per cent success rate," Laird said.

UPEI's vaccine program is expected to cost the university about $1,500 a year.

There are 27 towering elms on campus. Two others had to be chopped down over the past couple of years after they died from Dutch elm disease, Greg Clayton, UPEI facilities manager, said.

"It's very discouraging because they are a very important part of not only UPEI, but of the Island," Clayton said. "There aren't many American elm trees left because of the Dutch elm disease. When you look at their value, that's a small investment to protect the remaining elm trees on campus."

Laird said he'll be ready to start the injections next month.

Elm trees all over Charlottetown and Summerside have been falling victim to the disease ever since it arrived on the Island more than a decade ago.

The City of Charlottetown hasn't signed on just yet. It says it's still surveying its trees to see how many could benefit from the vaccine.