Elm and ash losing ground

There’s something happening across the county to majestic hardwoods that have lined streets and fencerows for decades.

It’s sad to watch but hundreds of old trees are showing up dead this year. Whether ash borer that the county and tree experts have been warning against for some time, or the return of the dreaded Dutch Elm disease, it’s tough to watch. Beautiful trees with tall straight trunks are now lifeless.

The cost to remove and the dangers of cutting them are large. Tales from our youth evoked the widow-maker, which could have been any large tree half-dead or full of poor limbs ready to fall on the unsuspecting woodsman. Being hardwood trees, they don’t cut as easily either.

The old farmhouse where we grew up was actually dwarfed on its eastern flank by an old elm for many years. Its circumference seemed just as immense and it took years for its stump to rot to a point it could be broken up and dragged away. We can still remember that tree’s trunk and many other elms of that era, laid in fencerows to decompose. Forty plus years later, there are few remnants left.

The utility of hardwood is perhaps less celebrated than it once was. Most think of hardwood as a veneer on kitchen cupboards, flooring or components in higher-end furniture. Originally however timbers and rough cut hardwood were used for any part of tools requiring strength, like wagon wheels, drive lines and so on. Beams were often of a hardwood base, with mortise and tenons, fabricated much like steelworkers put up a building skeleton today.

Remaining limbs and tops were used up as the best firewood around.

We have a funny feeling our elm problem will result in many a warm winter fire once cut and stacked. As the embers flicker and flames release a slow warm heat, it will be a time to think of what was, what is and what might be.

The problem of the eroding tree canopy is not limited to the countryside. We have noticed a few postings in town where dead and dying trees are being removed. We applaud the town for taking action with unsightly trees and avoiding the very real potential for some safety hazards.

We understand new trees will be planted to replace the old ones which is great. Yes there will be a cost, but it is incumbent on today’s leaders to think of tomorrow’s residents.

 It’s simply a matter of good civic management.

As we mulled over this subject, cutting grass in the ditches one end of the farm to the other, we had no idea later in the week we would get quizzed about clear cutting in agricultural zones.

Each township has policies and certainly the county has a bylaw governing the wholesale destruction of a woodlot. In this age of awareness most Canadians are content forgoing some convenience in favour of the benefits trees provide. Quality of air, habitat for wildlife, benefits as windbreaks and a natural shield against soil erosion are just some of the benefits.

Unfortunately there have been occasions where common sense and being a good custodian of farmland are cast aside in the name of greed and convenience, whether readying a parcel for urban development, or enlarging arable land holdings at the expense of the benefits outlined above.

This is why bylaws were implemented and why councils need to stick tight with the rules to ensure short-sighted approaches to land management don’t result in irreparable harm to the county’s tree canopy.

Little can be done to save the elm and ash from its natural predators. We like farmers, but we also like trees and suggest all think a little more about the big picture when notions of clear-cutting take root.

Surely, we owe that much respect to future generations.