Ash doomsday ahead: Tens of thousands of trees in line of beetle attack

The City of Fredericton is warning residents to prepare for a catastrophic loss of tens of thousands of trees.

With arrival of the emerald ash borer in Edmundston, it's only a matter of time before Fredericton trees fall

The emerald ash borer can live beneath the bark of ash trees for more than two years before there are obvious signs of infection. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The City of Fredericton is warning residents to prepare for a catastrophic loss of tens of thousands of trees. 

With the emerald ash borer on its way, ash trees in the capital are doomed, city forester Mike Glynn told the public safety and environment committee on Tuesday afternoon.

The question the city is trying to answer is: should the trees be cut down now or after the beetle is already and obviously destroying them?

The beetle was found in Edmundston last month, and Glynn said it's only a matter of time before it shows up in Fredericton, if it's not here already. 

"At this point, from a proactive perspective, there's nothing we can do," he said. "It's a waiting game at this point.

"Removal is pretty much the only option, unfortunately."

The invasive beetle, which has few enemies to keep it in check, was found in Edmundston in May and could be in Fredericton already. It can take a while before its destruction is obvious. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources/The Associated Press)

Fredericton has about 10,000 ash trees in Odell Park alone and about 2,400 along city streets. The numbers don't include ash trees in other city-owned parks or on private property.

The impact in Odell Park will be most noticeable along the park's northeast side, where ash trees make up about 20 per cent of the canopy in some areas, according to Don Murray, the city manager of parks and trees.

He said the city stopped planting ash in 2005, when it learned the ash borer would make its way to New Brunswick eventually and would one day destroy every ash tree in North America.

The invasive species showed up in Canada in 2002 in Windsor, Ont. 

Tree liability

Forester Mike Glynn says that once a tree is infected, it becomes dangerous to people walking by. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Glynn said that once the trees are infested, they have to be taken down. Otherwise they become a danger to people around them. 

"The risk is from the standing dead trees," he said. "Eventually, they'll start dropping branches, and then it becomes a huge liability factor for the general public. 

"If those trees aren't removed and if they are left standing and dead, then you have to limit the access around those dead trees."

Other municipalities have had to close down parks to keep people safe, he said. 

Lines beneath the bark of an ash tree show the path made by borer larvae. (The Associated Press)

Coun. John MacDermid, the chair of the public safety and environment committee, said the city wouldn't want to close Odell Park, so it would be better to deal with the insect in a more proactive way.

"One approach might be that we start aggressively eliminating our ash trees, especially the larger ones," MacDermid said.

"We can start rebuilding that forest canopy, so we're not replanting trees in 10 years, when the tree is a danger to come down."

Costly to eliminate 

Murray said cutting down the city's ash trees will cost $1,000 a tree. 

Council just has to decide whether it wants to start cutting now or follow the beetle's timetable. 

"This is a huge, serious problem that is going to cost us a lot of money over the course of the next 10 years to deal with, and the sooner we address it, the better," MacDermid said. 

"We can't run away from it. We can't avoid it. The key decision is, how aggressively do we approach it."

Councillor John MacDermid wants the city to be proactive in dealing with the ash trees. (Philip Drost/CBC)

MacDermid said taking care of the street trees alone will cost around $3 million. He said the city will be able to find that money in the budget. 

"The details will be better known in the fall when we get down into budget season, but I have pretty good confidence in our finance staff that hopefully they're going to be able to find some wiggle room to work it," he said.

Council will come up with a plan over the next couple of months, but the beetle could already be in Fredericton. The ash borer found in Edmundston was likely in the area seven to eight years before it was discovered this May. 

"This is unavoidable. It's coming, and it could be here now."

About the Author

Philip Drost

Philip Drost is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick.