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Chad Kichula, a tree-trimming contractor, says ending a Dutch elm disease program will lead to more cases of the deadly fungal infection. ((Stefani Langenegger/CBC))

The provincial government's decision to end a program aimed at controlling the spread of Dutch elm disease is raising more concerns about the fate of Saskatchewan's urban forests.

The program cut, which will save an estimated $500,000 per year, was part of the provincial budget unveiled March 24. The move drew criticism from people engaged in a campaign to protect stately trees from the fungal infection.

On Wednesday, the owner of a tree trimming company added his voice to the opposition noting that some prevention work will be dropped altogether.

'If you let a place like this go, you're going to regret it.' —Chad Kichula, Northern Tree Company

Chad Kichula, the owner of Northern Tree Company, has spent the past six years removing diseased trees from a designated buffer zone around Regina.

He said his contract to perform the work has been ended.

"The problem is, if you let a place like this go, you're going to regret it," Kichula told CBC News pointing to a small group of trees a few kilometres outside of Regina. He explained that without inspections and the removal of damaged trees, Dutch elm disease can easily move into the urban forest.

"Once it's in [Regina's] Whitmore Park, it can spread through the root systems," Kichula said.

Regina has 60,000 elms

The City of Regina estimates there are 60,000 elms in the province's capital. About 40,000 of them are owned and maintained by the city.

While Regina has its own program to combat Dutch elm disease, city officials said the end of the provincial program will hurt their efforts.

"I would say within five years, left unchecked, I think we'll see an increase of Dutch elm disease in Regina," Ray Morgan, the manger of forestry and pest control for the city, told CBC News Wednesday.

The provincial minister responsible for chopping the program continued to defend the move.

"Obviously there were some tough decisions to make in this budget," Environment Minister Nancy Heppner said. "But we felt there was knowledge and capacity within the municipalities."