The city is holding a series of community meetings to talk about an insect less than a centimetre long that has the potential to kill around eight per cent of the urban canopy.

The emerald ash borer, an Asian beetle, was first detected in Toronto near the Highway 404 and Sheppard Avenue West area in 2007, and has since spread to across the city, notably in the northeast, central and eastern parts of Toronto.

A city study found the borer will likely wipe out most of the 860,000 ash trees currently in the city by 2017. Ash trees make up 8.4 per cent of Toronto's urban canopy.

"In the last election of October as I was walking through these streets I saw all these dead trees," said Coun. Paul Kelly, the chair of the city's parks and environment committee.

"You know, it took 30 or 40 years for them to grow up and out. They make the neighbourhood look so beautiful. They're magnificent trees. And now? Boom. You've got to start all over again."

The bugs' larvae destroy trees by tunnelling into the water-conducting tissues under the bark.

The City will begin removal of dead and dying trees from streets and parks at the end of the month.

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The emerald ash borer was first discovered in North America in 2002. (Associated Press/University of Michigan)

Problem could cost homeowners

Each tree costs about $1,000 to cut down and replace. The city expects to spend just over $1 million on tree removal for trees on city property this year. Next year it estimates it will spend $3.4 million.

Some Toronto homeowners, however, will have to pay out of their own pocket if they have a dead ash tree on their property.

"There are no natural defences to this little critter. All we can do is cut and replace," said Kelly.

As to which trees are being considered as replacements, Kelly said climate change is playing a factor in that decision.

"The climate is going to get warmer. We might be looking at planting trees that normally would be planted south of the border. The northern boundary for certain species is beginning to move up," said Kelly

"The one that I like the best is something called the Kentucky coffee treeā€¦ It's a beautiful tree. Not one of the tallest trees. It goes up about 40 feet or so. It has a lovely round, full canopy to it."

The city is holding three public meetings to talk about the problem:

  • June 20, 7 - 9 p.m. Sir Wilfred Laurier Collegiate,145 Guildwood Parkway.
  • June 21, 7 - 9 p.m. McGregor Park Community Centre, 2231 Lawrence Avenue East.
  • June 27, 7 - 9 p.m. Port Union Community Centre, 5450 Lawrence Avenue East.

The emerald ash borer has killed millions of ash trees in southwestern Ontario, Michigan and surrounding states since being discovered in North America in 2002.

Experts believe the emerald ash borer came to North America, specifically to Detroit, in a pile of packing wood from China.