Work to keep Dutch elm disease at bay in Sask. continues

Dutch elm disease is a growing issue in Saskatchewan, and every year programs work to stop the spread of the disease, and 2021 is no different.

The disease was first discovered in the early 1980s in Regina before it was eradicated. Since returning in around 1990 the provincial government has been trying to eradicate it once again.

During that time it spread along the Souris River Valley, the Qu’Appelle River Valley and up north through the Cumberland Delta.

"It is now spread pretty much half way across the province and the most westerly point is around Outlook, so it's spreading pretty good and we're doing our best to slow the spread," said Dr. Rory McIntosh, provincial forest entomologist and pathologist for the forest service branch of the Ministry of Environment.

The disease is an invasive species of fungus and is a major threat to the Dutch Elm population.

“Our prairie communities are full elm trees that provide us all benefits that make it so enjoyable to live here,” McIntosh added.

McIntosh and the ministry do prevention work in the high risk low check locations and buffer areas, but they also work with communities to aide their programs.

He says it's important every one knows what to look for when it comes to stopping the spread.

Matt Charney, parks manager for the City of Yorkton, said the easiest wat to identify an elm tree is to look for its jagged leaves.

The city has almost 1,600 elm trees and the Urban Forestry Program aims to keep them under control.

Program employees look for early signs of the disease, which appear as shriveled or yellow leaves.

These symptoms typically occur late June in to early July, and leaves will become red or brown due to the lack of water if left untreated.

If they come across any infected trees they remove the branches as soon as possible.

"Usually what we do is we take samples and we send them off to Prince Albert and we get it tested," said Charney. Those who have trees on private property are also advised to send in their branches to be tested for the disease.

If a branch tests positive the whole tree is removed and properly disposed of at the landfill.

Locally the disease is spread from contaminated pruning equipment or from tree to tree by the elm bark beetle

"If those insects came from diseased trees they will have the spores of the disease with them and then they will spread it in the spring when they migrate from those wintering sites," said McIntosh.

The disease is widespread through transportation, which is how it made its way to eastern Canada in logs from Europe, and before that eastern Asia.

There is a pruning ban on elm trees annually from April 1 to Sept. 1, but the spread is not seasonal.

McIntosh warns people to never use elm wood as firewood, and reminds it is illegal to keep, buy or transport at any time.

He also said it’s important people help by keeping an eye out and reporting anything suspicious when it comes to preventing the spread.