Natural canopies in the prairies are rare, which makes the presence of elm trees in Swift Current so cherished by its residents.
However, one tiny bug can have a huge impact on the health and ultimately the lifespan of the trees.
Mike Newall, parks manager for the city, explained that the elm bark beetle can spread a fungus known as Dutch Elm Disease (DED) which has a nearly 100 per cent kill rate and if not managed properly could lead to an extensive loss of elms.
“For members of the public that enjoy our parks and city treescapes or boulevard trees, that would be very devastating,” Newall said.
A case of DED was detected in a city park tree last year but was successfully removed and all samples of surrounding trees tested negative for the fungus.
As of last Friday, approximately nine samples of local trees have been sent to the Province for testing and all results were negative for DED.
Newall added that when city-owned elms are anticipated to be worked on, a sample is first sent to the Province for DED testing and results are awaited before a project is started.
This is a proactive measure for preventing the spread of the disease if present; using the same tools on a healthy tree as used on an infected tree can spread the fungus.
Testing for Dutch Elm Disease isn’t the only regulation in place regarding elm trees, and Newall encourages homeowners to know and follow the provincial guidelines.
According to the Province, the beetles are most active from April 1 to August 31 each year and fresh cuts attract them, therefore pruning elms is not allowed between those dates. Equipment used when pruning outside of those months should be cleaned between each tree.
Proper disposal of the trees at the City’s landfill is dire not only for reducing DED spread but to ensure residents don’t store the pieces as firewood, which is prohibited province-wide.
Signs of DED that folks can look for include wilting, yellowing, and browning leaves on the top branches, and infected twig samples will have red streaks through the sapwood; if any signs occur, samples can be sent for free testing in Saskatchewan.
Mike Newall is Swift Current’s Dutch Elm Inspector and encourages residents to reach out to the City with any questions or concerns.
"I can answer questions to the best of my ability and if I don't know, I'll refer it back to the province,” he said. “We'll try and make sure we can protect our Elm Forest canopy.”