Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Back in the late 60's and early 70's, an annual ritual down east in my native New Brunswick, was the aerial spraying of the forests in a mostly losing battle against the Eastern Spruce Budworm.

Such was the effort in the province that New Brunswick operated what became, next to the Royal Canadian Air Force, the second largest air force in Canada. I recall that the aircraft, mostly decommissioned World War II bombers, would sweep low over unpopulated, also frequently populated, sectors of the province. More than once my home on the outskirts of Fredericton, near the UNB forest was sprayed with the purplish coloured pesticide "Malathion". These operations along the eastern seaboard were so extensive that even Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn in the 1957 movie "Desk Set" alluded to the matter. The Budworm debacle was soon overshadowed by the outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease which decimated the stately elms of the city of Fredericton.

Out west for the past several years, the governments of British Columbia and Alberta have been waging an expensive and unfortunately mostly unsuccessful battle in attempts to curb the advance of the Forest Mountain Pine Beetle. It so far has infested and destroyed as much as 50% of the British Columbia forests.

It seems that science doesn't give us much hope when it comes to stopping insects. Just short of being evil, these bugs are for the most part unstoppable. Here in eastern Ontario, specifically in Ottawa, the Emerald Ash Borer, was first detected this past summer. Government officials now are bracing for the massive destruction of forests in both Ontario and Quebec. An estimated 40% of all the trees in the two provinces are Ash. In the nation's capital, 25% of all trees are Ash and all are expected to be killed by the insect within 10 or so years.

The Emerald Ash Borer which is native to the Asian continent was first detected in North America in 2002 in Michigan. Every attempt to contain or eliminate the bug has failed. Experts predict a booming business for tree removal companies. In Ottawa on city owned property alone there are 225,000 Ash trees. Millions more in private yards, federal properties, Gatineau Park, provincial parks and outdoor recreational facilities.

As winter sets-in and the tax man delivers new property valuations, homeowners are still pretty much unaware of this new looming problem...surely though not for long. The city government has already started removing dead trees from its lands. On private property contractors charge as much a $1500. for one tree. Prepare for an angry and emotional outcry.

An old elephant joke may briefly lighten the mood: Catching an elephant is easy. Dig a large hole, cover it with branches and set the branches on fire. The ashes will fall in the hole. The elephant, curious by nature, will wander over to see what's going on. When he does...kick it in the ash!

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