By Jessica Lovell
It’s an area of the city where new houses seem to pop up like weeds, so it may come as no surprise that Trees For Guelph will be targeting the south end when the spring tree-planting season arrives.
“We were fortunate to obtain a grant from the Ministry of the Environment,” said Jim Taylor, president of the group whose focus is on improving the environment through educational tree planting.
The $6,500 Ontario Community Environment Fund grant will be used to plant a riparian forest in the Clairfields neighbourhood, said Taylor. “We’re particularly interested in this area because it’s open with few trees,” Taylor said.
Also, “it’s where we’re seeing the early appearance of the emerald ash borer,” he said.
A riparian forest usually refers to the forested area around a wetland or along a river or creek. In the case of the Clairfields area, there is a drainage system that makes use of the open space between the rows of houses. It is this open space system that will be the focus of the planting, said Taylor, although he couldn’t say exactly what the new forest would look like just yet.
“We’re meeting with the city parks department, the urban forestry people, in the next couple of weeks to develop a plan for it,” he said.
One thing he knows: “We’re obviously not planting ash. We’re planting other native species,” he said.
The emerald ash borer, an invasive, parasitic beetle that preys on ash trees and eventually kills them, has already done a number on the trees in the south end. “Emerald ash borer has already killed some trees in the south end,” said Martin Neumann, the city’s manager of forestry and a former Trees For Guelph board member.
“There were several streets in the Clairfields subdivision where our crews have already gone in and removed the boulevard ash trees,” he said, noting that more ash trees in the open spaces in that area will be removed this year.
“The majority of them are already so heavily impacted that we know they’re going to die,” Neumann said.
Because the city doesn’t have an inventory of its trees, Neumann had difficulty quantifying the impact of the pest on the tree population.
But after a year that saw trees hit hard by a couple of storms, including the most recent ice storm in December, Neumann said the ash borer is still the top priority for the city’s forestry department.
In fact, damage from the ice storm was worst in neighbourhoods with mainly ash trees, he said. “Most of those trees were doomed anyway,” he said.
It is a coincidence that ash trees were hard hit, having to do with a weakness in the tree’s architecture, he noted.
Regardless, some areas that were hardest hit were also in what is considered the south end, including John Gamble Park, east of the Hanlon and south of Kortright Road, and Mollison Park, off Downey Road, he said.
And with the ash borer threatening more trees, it’s good to have an organization like Trees For Guelph helping to fight the effects, Neumann said.
“It’s awesome that they’re focusing their efforts where the negative impacts of the emerald ash borer have already been felt,” he said.
Those efforts will consist of planting around 2,000 trees, including 200 larger trees, said Taylor. “So it’s going to be an instant forest,” he said.
And like other Trees For Guelph projects, it will involve local schools in the planting process. “It’s educational, but also gives them an opportunity to plant a tree in their own neighbourhood,” said Taylor.
The organization will be contact schools in the area to find out which ones are interested in taking part, he said.
“With the Clairfields project, we expect to engage around 500 students to get it done,” he said.
The project is unique, but it is just one of the many plantings local schools will be involved in throughout the city this year.
Last year, the organization involved more than 4,000 students in planting programs at 19 different sites, and since the organization was founded in 1990 it has facilitated the planting of more than 120,000 trees in the city.
But beyond just planting, the organization also revisits its sites to look after the young trees, said Taylor.
“We have a pretty good survival rate,” he said.
This is important, because it can take years for new plantings to have an impact on the city’s tree canopy – which currently sits at about 20 per cent, about half of the coverage the city would like to see, said Neumann.