Hydro contractors snubbing Winnipeg elm-pruning ban, group suspects

A Winnipeg tree-welfare group is sounding the alarm about a possibility Manitoba Hydro contractors may be excessively pruning elm branches in breach of a provincial ban aimed at stopping the spread of Dutch elm disease.

Work is expensive and not done unnecessarily, Hydro says

The elm bark beetle is a carrier of Dutch elm disease and they like fresh pruning cuts, Trees Winnipeg says. (City of Winnipeg )

A Winnipeg tree-welfare group is sounding the alarm about a possibility Manitoba Hydro contractors may be excessively pruning elm branches in breach of a provincial ban aimed at stopping the spread of Dutch elm disease.

Trees Winnipeg is asking people to keep eyes out for elm tree pruning in their areas up until the end of July, and to call the city 311 line to report it if they see it happening.

Group president Gerry Engel said Wednesday it's been getting reports of pruning beyond what is allowed within the scope of an April 1-July 31 ban.

Under the terms of that ban, the province permits Hydro to prune back elms in emergency situations.

Engel said Trees Winnipeg has seen "widespread non-emergency elm pruning" in neighbourhoods including East, West and North Kildonan and St. Boniface.
A fresh pruning cut is seen in this photo submitted to CBC by Trees Winnipeg. (Trees Winnipeg )

The elm bark beetle, a common carrier in Manitoba of Dutch elm disease, is attracted to fresh pruning cuts, placing trees at risk, the group says. Pruning also foils efforts of forestry technicians to detect diseased trees.

Trees Winnipeg says the city loses 5,000 elms a year due to the fungal disease. It blocks water movement in the tree, leading to its death, according to the province.  

Engel said he took his concerns to the government and was told he needed a "smoking gun" to see any intervention.

Photos of large avenues of pruned trees aren't enough, Engel said. "We need to catch 'em in the act," is what needs to happen, Engel said he was told.

Hydro spokesperson Scott Powell said the Crown corporation is well aware of the ban, but said it has a responsibility to ensure tree branches remain a minimum of two feet away from overhead electrical conductors.

"Trust me, one of the major reasons we perform this type of work is because one of the major reasons and causes of outages over the summer is trees that are within that limit of approach coming into contact with power lines (and) weakened, structurally unsound branches coming down on our power lines," Powell said.

It's also expensive to do the work, so Hydro wouldn't if it weren't absolutely necessary, Powell said. 

Arborists doing it are aware of the rules, he said, and they trim to the minimum required and return to finish the job when the ban is ended. 


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