Hamilton has lost 7,000 ash trees so far - and it's already painful

The city is only partway into its plan to fell nearly every public ash tree because of the emerald ash borer, and already, it’s changed Hamilton’s neighbourhoods.
The city is only three years into its plan to remove 2,300 trees per year, and the impact is already painful. (City of Hamilton - staff report)

The city is only partway into its plan to fell nearly every public ash tree because of the emerald ash borer, and already, it's changed Hamilton's neighbourhoods.

The city has yanked 6,761 ash trees on public property since 2012. By 2022, it will have felled 22,738 of them.

That's had a major impact on streets in Ward 10, which has the largest concentration of roadside ash trees. Streets that used to have a lush green canopy are now lined by saplings, said Coun. Maria Pearson.

We have whole streets where you'd swear you're going into a brand new subdivision now.- Coun. Maria Pearson

"We have whole streets where you'd swear you're going into a brand new subdivision now," said Pearson. "They've taken the trees down and planted little saplings. It's a huge, huge impact."

But it's an impact the city can't control. The emerald ash borer is an invasive species decimating ash tree populations across Ontario. Once the pest invades a tree, its death is swift and certain.

To react, city council approved $26.2-million plan in 2012 to remove all of its trees along streets and in public parks and cemeteries. It also voted to have staff come back every year with an update. That update will happen at a public works committee meeting on Monday.

The update shows that 6,761 trees and 3,747 stumps have been removed. Only 1,946 replacement trees have been planted, but staff pledge to speed that up in 2015 to total 3,777. The removal rate is about 2,300 trees per year.

I can't put my arms around it. That's how big it is.- Coun. Maria Pearson

Pearson isn't on the public works committee, but will likely attend to hear the update anyway. "I have a file over an inch thick about trees," she said.

Pearson has 11 ash trees on her own property. She has removed one so far, which cost her about $1,000. She knows time is running out for the other 10.

"I have a gorgeous one down the street at a little rental property, and the tree overshadows the whole house," she said. "It's at least 80 years old and she's going to have to come down."

"I can't put my arms around it. That's how big it is."

Staff are trying to curb the impact by planting local species, such as Kentucky coffee trees and tulip trees. Ash trees account for 10 per cent of Hamilton's public trees.

The city is also trying to save 800 trees via biannual injections with a pesticide believed to protect still-healthy trees. But the impact isn't certain, and Pearson says even some of the trees in her ward that have been injected seem to be failing.

The borer was first discovered in Hamilton in 2009 on the central Mountain, the staff report says. In Ontario, it was first spotted in 2002.