Monitoring Trees Near Parry Sound

May-June 2009

LEAVES ARE PROMINENT on both our provincial and national flags symbolizing the high value we supposedly place on trees. According to Anne Hayes, a biologist with BioForest Technologies Inc., it is a value that many take for granted. Often, people react and spend on trees only when their trees are threatened. We forget about the multiple positive impacts of trees until they are in jeopardy. Unfortunately, by the time we make the long overdue call to an arborist or other professional, tree removal is sometimes the only option. Ted Thompson, a forester for Archipelago Township, was all too familiar with this problem and found a solution.

In 2001, Archipelago Township had an outbreak of the introduced pine sawfly. With about ninety five percent of their ratepayer’s being cottagers, Thompson knew the value of the land depends in a significant way on its mature trees. Trees could not be taken for granted any longer. The Canadian Forest Service worked with BioForest to determine insect levels and find solutions, but the root concern remained. They needed to engage and inspire members of a geographically diverse township comprised of many cottages and a provincial park to prevent instead of react to a crisis.

Thompson is the local building inspector, fire safety officer and forester for the township. With such diverse responsibilities, he couldn’t inspect all areas of the township on a regular basis. Nor could the township afford, in a time of economic downturn, to hire a private company to do all the surveys needed to monitor for potential change. (Archipelago does hire BioForest to do some surveying and to monitor volunteer surveys for accuracy each year.)

Archipelago Township is a forward thinking group. Many residents, although part-time, are active in supporting the goal of preserving the pristine region for their grandchildren. It is unique geographically, encompassing land both north and south of Parry Sound, Georgian Bay islands and endangered species. The land to the north is pine dominant with shallow soil. To the south are hardwoods with deep soil and just about everything is in between including rocky shorelines.

The township already had a “Water Quality Monitoring Volunteer Program” and a shoreline management handbook called Caring For Our Waterfront Property. This full colour booklet includes local photographs and helpful hints for the cottager. In 2007, the township started a new volunteer program to monitor tree health and added lines to their book like, “This ad is provided here again as a bonus opportunity to enlist. Hey it isn’t the army – joining is not life threatening.” Hayes said 36 people volunteered the first two years for the forest program and an additional 20 have expressed interest in 2009.

Ratepayers who volunteer for Archipelago’s program commit to monitoring 15 to 30 trees. In total, over 840 trees will be examined this year. It takes a few hours the first year and about half an hour each year thereafter. The township expects to benefit by receiving an early warning of developing issues like climate change, pollution and tree decline, while volunteers gain insight and appreciation for their tree’s health. The financial cost is significantly cheaper then treating one outbreak or hiring one forester. It is a win-win situation.

Thompson said Archipelago ratepayers value the water first and trees a close second. Hayes states it more simply – they value the environment. The difference may be slight from a township perspective but from a marketing angle, it is significant. Protecting the environment is trendy at the moment. Everyone is carrying reusable bags and talking about green energy initiatives and recycling. Arborists can join the crowd and shout that they do more than a “million acts of green” each year. Every leaf breathes in carbon and out oxygen. Every trunk is a carbon store house. Every arborist supports the environment with each tree saved and each tree removed for environmentally sound reasons.

Sue McPhedran is one of the volunteers who started with the program two years ago. She supports it fully but has some concerns. She is also with the waterfront program and compares the two. “With trees, there is little change year to year. How do you really gauge how much a tree has grown in height?” She wants to see and know more of the bigger picture. “I would like to see goals and measured objectives.” She offers, “A blog would help.”

Hayes agrees. There isn’t a lot of gratification or change in a forestry program. They need to hold annual meetings to share what is happening in the township and present the data on the website to provide more frequent updates for volunteers. For the first few years, it is challenging as there is little data to review. “Unless there is an invasive outbreak, there isn’t much to see or discuss.”

McPhedran is so enthusiastic she wants to do more for the program. “What about temperature and moisture levels in the soil? Soil depth? We could do wet and dry soil samples, air and ground temperatures.” She also wants to know if the data is reliable when it is collected by volunteers. She’s got questions. She wants answers. She is engaged.

Hayes says one of the real advantages for her personally is she finds the volunteers’ enthusiasm for the program inspiring. “I feed on their passion. When trees are your job, you get wrapped up in the details of the industry. It is exciting to step back and remember why you got into the business in the first place.” Joe Meating, president of BioForest, says they are trying to answer McPhedran’s questions both on the website (, the reports on Archipelago Township are under the “online reports” heading) and in the meeting to be booked this summer and he personally does sample surveys to recheck the volunteer data ensuring the results are usable.

Another volunteer on board is Paul Hamblin. He heard a cottage in the township sold for half a million. Shortly afterward, an insect infestation killed the primarily red pine bush on the cottage property. The new owner was distressed and put the cottage back on the market. Last Paul heard, it was listed for a quarter million with no offers. That settled it for him. Trees at the cottage have value and are worth care and dollars for maintenance.

Meating said trees usually add about seven to twelve percent to a home’s value. This is not in any real estate calculation. It is intrinsic “curb appeal.” People pay more for a home that looks better from the road. Meating says they encourage people to add the total cost when considering tree care. If it costs $150 every other year to treat a tree for emerald ash borer or Dutch elm disease, compare it to the cost of removal (with the potential of crane rental), include loss of real estate value, and replacement cost – and remember that the homeowner will never live to see a mature hardwood in that location. The flip side is perhaps the homeowner wants a different tree, hates trees, thinks he has too many already, or the problem one is dangerous. BioForest does no tree removal or treatment so Meating tries to be completely impartial.

Hamblin attended the forestry workshop, read the website and is now active identifying bugs and watering trees. He is confident his property is better maintained because of his new knowledge and is happy to do the work or hire others. On the flip side, Hamblin’s permanent home is in Barrie. He knows they have an urban forester but sees no connection between the trees on private land in his neighbourhood and his condo value. He is aware of no problems in the urban forest. He is unaware of issues like root compaction, salt damage or shallow soils in the concrete jungle.

People can and do compartmentalize their knowledge. Highly educated, intelligent people sometimes fail to see connections. Roots are roots. They need oxygen, water and nutrients both at the cottage and at home. When a tree’s basic needs are not met, it is stressed and more vulnerable to disease and insects. Healthy mature trees add value and curb appeal to neighbourhoods. These are facts that are not related to Ontario’s geography.

Hamblin related a personal visit with a BC forester and later Meating at his cottage. In both cases, he listened and acted in response to their teaching. He is now rooting out ribes, picking tent caterpillars, managing fire hazards and thinning the cedars at the cottage. He has never read about tree health in the city or met anyone speaking on the topic. He is not acting or engaged to protect trees in urban areas. There is a disconnect to the urban forest.

Joe Marie Powers is another actively engaged cottager who loves her trees and immediately signed up as a volunteer. She is involved and follows the instructions she has received for her cottage property. She so loves the program and people involved, she insists she is doing the survey because she “wants to keep BioForest happy.” They have helped her in the past and she wants the relationship to continue. Her home is in a rural area near Guelph and like Hamblin, she sees no need for tree maintenance there. Yes, she values her trees at home and even makes maple syrup, but blessed with rich soil, she believes they are OK. She doesn’t know if the emerald ash borer is in her area or even what the beetle looks like but does know her ash trees don’t look well. Again, there is a disconnect regarding trees growing away from the cottage. “If a favourite tree was infected, I might call for help,” she says.

Another volunteer who is also active and engaged with tree health at the cottage told me her husband cuts wood regularly at home for heat. She also doesn’t think they have emerald ash borer but her ash trees are in bad shape. She sees no problem transporting wood from home to the cottage – the disconnects related to tree knowledge continue.

Engaged and enthusiastic about trees both at home and the cottage, Renee Hoculik of St. Catherines was happy to volunteer. She decided to do two plots for her data collection (home and cottage). Hoculik first became aware of tree issues near her home in the Carolinian forest including the loss of the chestnut and then experienced a hemlock looper infestation at the family cottage. She says she first felt overwhelmed with the manual for the volunteer study while on holidays. but after rereading it, she recognized it could be both fun and informative and did one plot with her grand niece and nephew. They found insects they’d never noticed before and the older boy, age ten, is now talking of a future career in arboriculture.

Hoculik says, “Our generation has missed the boat. We need more education in schools and maybe the kids will take some of it home… if, that is, they have supper together as a family (but that’s a whole other issue). Education is important. People need to take responsibility for their trees. I don’t know how to educate urbanites but I do know that arborists often have the reputation of being “tree cutters” instead of tree care givers. Only people with fruit trees hire arborists to heal, the rest hire arborists to cut.” She believes arborists in her area have an image problem. “Get tree monitoring programs in the schools.”

The BioForest volunteer program is in its third year in Archipelago Township. Meating says although they have 30 years experience training foresters to monitor trees, they wanted to test pilot the program with volunteers before marketing it in other places. “Government is cutting back. Cities are strapped. We need more eyes out there looking for early warning signs. We need history. Arborists are good at looking, but they aren’t usually good at recording history.” He has just returned from PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where he shared how landowners, conservation authorities, schools and woodlot associations can get out there and collect real useful data. “There is no magic here. A little data each year over five or ten years is valuable. You just need a central point where the data is compiled.” Meating continues, “We are always working in a vacuum. What happened last year? No one can answer.”

Hoculik says that we need to “inform people of the role of arborists, the importance of growth from seed.” Earth Day events are an opportunity to invite local and national papers to include articles about the role of the arborist and what can be done to save trees. Meating offers, “Do good work. Spend time with your clients.”
Another volunteer asked not to be identified. He is very critical of the municipal tree care near his home. He is so engaged he snuck out after dark to care for some neglected trees on neighbouring properties. At his residence, they also have a volunteer program that does tree surveys and maintenance. He believes the organization does a fantastic job but they don’t have enough volunteers. The second issue is that although his municipality requires all new home builders to plant trees, there is no requirement for after care or even to ensure the trees are living when first planted. He claims direct knowledge of a contractor who hired a nursery that planted half dead trees. He condemns the township and the lax bylaws.

Ted Thompson found a creative way to engage both permanent and seasonal residents encompassing a diverse array of landscapes and Archipelago Township has bylaws to back up their program. By the end of 2009, more than 56 educated pairs of eyes will have monitored their trees. Those 56 people are in turn encouraging their spouses, grandchildren, siblings and friends to act. Only one of the volunteers I spoke with said he hadn’t hired a professional to do tree care since starting to volunteer (he did the work himself). Arborists are reaping the benefits of volunteers’ enthusiasm. Translating that knowledge back to the urban areas is the next challenge.

Hayes said it is everyone’s job in the tree care industry to educate about the value of healthy trees. People value their environment. Understanding how to keep trees healthy and being proactive about tree maintenance will help residents maximize the benefits that trees afford. In a down economy, educating customers about tree health helps everyone.

The exotic pine sawfly, Diprion similis (Hartig), arrived from Europe in 1931 and is now widespread throughout Ontario. In its last major outbreak in 2000, 8,573 ha of defoliation occurred to white pine trees. In 2008, low populations were found in young red pine plantations in the Simcoe County Forest, just north of Barrie along Highway 400 north of Parry Sound in Carling Township, and along Highway 69 in Cox Township, between Parry Sound and Sudbury. Only light defoliation was observed in these areas in 2008.

White pine is the preferred host but all pines are susceptible. The forecast for 2009 is low.

Until now, outbreaks in Ontario have been localized. The concern is that as the climate changes, this insect – known to have two to three generations in one year in warmer areas – will cause increased tree mortality. This is because the first generation consumes last year’s growth while the second and third generations feed into December on new growth.

Natural Resources Canada and the Ministry of Labour are monitoring the species and working to develop environmentally friendly means of control.

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