Windsor continues to struggle with a staggering tree-trimming backlog that has residents waiting more than a year for municipal workers to prune overgrown street trees.
Unless there is an immediate safety hazard, most complaints to the city's forestry department get thrown into a queue, which can then lead to an 18-month wait, according to head forester Paul Giroux.
Financial problems leading to the backlog began about a decade ago with the arrival of the emerald ash borer. The invasive beetle rapidly destroyed city trees, forcing the forestry department to shift the bulk of its tree-trimming resources over to tree removal.
Resources were strained even further because of extremely frugal city budgets that froze taxes in nine of the past 10 years.
"That's difficult," Giroux told CBC News. "It was a bit of a comedy of errors."
End of routine trims
Regularly scheduled trimmings for the city's 70,000 street trees stopped completely nearly 10 years ago, putting the city well behind industry standards that require all trees to be pruned every five to eight years.
Going a decade without much proactive work is bad enough, Giroux explained, but some overdue trimmings in Windsor date back even further. Trees in some neighbourhoods, including those like Forest Glade, were last pruned 20 years ago.
"This lack of preventative maintenance has had a negative impact on our city owned trees, has increased the number of tree-related damage claims and has had a major impact on our current backlog of tree work," Giroux wrote in a recent report to city council.
Return to routine
To hack away at the backlog, Giroux has carved the city up into seven areas and plans to have his department complete proactive tree trimmings in one of those areas every year.
The cycle will start over every eight years, meaning every tree will receive proper pruning every seven years, bringing the forestry department back within industry standards.
"We're going to get back to area trims, that's the goal," Giroux said. "Tree maintenance is the key."
Tree inventory update
The city has tracked tree planting for decades, but the existing inventory falls down in many aspects because it hasn't been maintained in years.
"As a result, much of the data in the inventory, such as tree size, is out of date," according to Giroux's report. "It is also lacking other key data fields such as the health of the tree, the structure ratings of the tree and its GPS coordinates."
The forestry department plans to create a much more robust inventory this year. To create the new database, a consultant will be hired to survey all city owned street trees with high-resolution aerial photography on hand-held tablets.
This new inventory will help identify the city's most problematic trees, which will lead to their removal. The database will also lay the foundation for Windsor's first urban forest management plan, which Giroux hopes will give council a definitive urban forestry strategy.