The City of Orillia has put its ash trees under surveillance to keep an eye out for the emerald ash borer insect, which has already made its way into Barrie, Midland, Oro-Medonte Township and Tay Township.
“Right now, what we’re doing is monitoring,” said Rob Jackson, city arborist. “We’re working with Simcoe County, (and) they’ve put traps up the last couple of seasons in different locations around the city to see if it’s arrived yet.”
County forester Graeme Davis noted the emerald ash borer “is a very difficult insect to trap, and it is entirely possible it is in the city, but we have not received a confirmation.”
The fact no emerald ash borers have been confirmed in the city means there is still time for proactive measures, such as the ones taken by the City of Barrie since 2012.
“What the city did was identify inventory and identify all the ash trees, current condition, health and size,” said Kevin Rankin, Barrie’s forestry supervisor. “And we identified trees that were very young and small, that wouldn’t cost us a lot to remove and replace, so we proactively replaced those with alternate species — maples, oaks and other non-ash species.”
Orillia Coun. Tim Lauer believes the city is handling the situation properly.
“I don’t think we’re overreacting, and it seems to me we’re taking some proactive steps, as in inoculating some trees,” he said. “I guess they got it pretty aggressive down in southern Ontario, cutting trees down and trying to prevent the spread, but it didn’t work, so I think it’s wise for us just to wait and see what happens.”
Jackson said Orillia’s proactive measures include inoculation and not planting more ash trees in the past seven years, when the insect’s advent in North America was confirmed.
“We plant about 40 trees a year and in the last seven years, we’ve planted 280 trees (as part of ongoing planting project in the city),” he said. “So, we’re planting other species, trying to stick with native species (such as) sugar maple and red oak.”
The city has inoculated a few of the ash trees in Couchiching Beach, Tudhope and Kitchener parks, Jackson said. The handful that have been treated are just a fraction of the 800 or so ash trees that are within Orillia’s parks system.
“We’ve inoculated about 10 trees. It’s fairly expensive to inoculate. It works out to $300 to $500 dollars per tree.”
The cost of inoculation — and the fact it has to be started before the insect invades the tree, and it must repeated every two years — makes it hard for the city to treat all trees.
Davis said it’s a good idea.
“You may (also) want to start removing the trees even before they show signs of infestation,” he said. “For a municipality, essentially, your options are to choose to be passive and not remove the trees or to be extremely proactive. In most cases, it’s somewhere in between.”
Victoria TeBrugge, laboratory co-ordinator and contract lecturer at Lakehead University in Orillia, whose research interests include insects and insect physiology, explained since the ash borer doesn’t have any natural predators, it has been reproducing successfully.
“In the U.S., they’ve imported three different species of parasitic wasps (and) they’ve experimented with those,” she said. “Some people encourage woodpecker populations. There’s some suggestion it may work.”
Davis said that’s not something the county would be involved in directly.
“To introduce a parasite or something along those levels is something that requires a tremendous amount of research,” he said.
More information about the county’s fight against the emerald ash borer can be found at simcoe.ca.
“If you have questions about identifying an ash tree or questions about what your options are, we try pretty hard to keep our website up to date,” said Davis. “We continue to stress to do something about it as quickly as you can. It’s important to look at it (early on) to be able to save your tree.”