In the mi d -1 9 8 0 s , Manitobans began taking stock of the grand, old and otherwise noteworthy trees standing in their communities or farm, submitting details about them to a special project of the Manitoba Forestry Association (MFA).
Many ended up in a book – Heritage Trees of Manitoba – that became, in effect, an honour roll of this province’s most significant trees, including beauties such as the “halfway tree” west of Portage and Manitoba’s biggest tree, a massive plains cottonwood on the banks of the Assiniboine River.
But a quarter-century of wind, weather, disease, aging, and even vandalism are taking their toll on trees in the provincial heritage tree inventory.
Now the MFA wants to find out not only what’s happened to these documented trees, but get Manitobans nominating more trees again for a heritage tree update. The tree inventory will be posted online on a new website MFA will launch next month.
“What’s happening is we’re losing all these special trees we have in our heritage tree book,” said Patricia Pohrebniuk, executive director of the MFA.
REVISITING OLD FRIENDS
Part of the update will involve staff revisiting the sites documented in Heritage Trees of Manitoba to take updated measurements and photos. The photos will be uploaded to the new website – www.thinktrees.org.
They’re also encouraging Manitobans to start nominating more special trees in their community.
The heritage tree update will be done in a partnership with Manitoba Hydro Forest Enhancement Program.
There was a flood of nominations from the public in the 1980s – and they’re hoping for a repeat, said Pohrebniuk.
“Who knows… the largest tree may still be out there and we just haven’t found it yet,” she said.
But it’s not just big trees they’re hoping to hear about. “Trees tell stories and we want to hear these stories,” she said.
Trees can also qualify for recognition in three categories including historic, notable, as well as record trees. Record trees are those found to be the largest and oldest of each species native to Manitoba. The province’s documented record tree is a massive plains cottonwood on an oxbow on the Assiniboine River near Portage la Prairie. In the 1980s it was standing at a height of 115 feet and 255 inches in circumference.
Historic trees are those associated with special historical events such as signing of proclamations or centennial celebrations. Trees being planted by members of the Manitoba Women’s Institute right now are good examples of trees that could fit this category, noted Pohrebniuk. (see sidebar)
The third category is notable trees, or trees with distinctive shapes or forms resulting from adapting to adverse conditions.
Manitoba has lost trees in all categories. A stunning “notable tree,” a cottonwood, standing on the grounds of the town hall in Carman was taken down last month after wetwood, or “slime flux,” a disease common among cottonwood and often infecting older, poorly pruned trees, was detected.
“We’d noticed a big split in the tree and there was a lot of wet fluid coming out of the bottom of the tree in the spring,” said Town of Carman Councillor Wayne Hiebert. Arborists were consulted and reported to council that the disease would only further weaken the tree to the point where it could pose a safety hazard, Hiebert said.
It wasn’t an easy decision to take the tree down, but the town is also planning an expansion on the town hall in future, he added.
“My gut feeling was that we could have kept it for longer,” he said. “But when you look at the whole scenario, it still was the right time to do it… it was diseased, it wasn’t going to live much longer, coupled with the fact that probably within the next five years we’ll be putting an addition on the town office. Then the roots would get disturbed and the tree would die anyways.”
In a particularly egregious act two years ago, vandals senselessly attacked and cut down a century-old tree in Victoria Park in Souris.
The condition of Manitoba’s record tree, meanwhile, is currently unknown, Pohrebniuk said, adding that there have been comments that it may have died. “We’re in the process of getting permission to remeasure the tree,” she said. “We’ve heard that the tree may have died but we don’t have all the information back yet.”
There is no special protective status associated with heritage tree designation and visits to heritage tree sites around the province will likely reveal more downers, notes Pohrebniuk. Disease, extreme weather, development and even the occasional vandal’s axe all pose threats to these older trees, she said.
But the overriding threat is simply time. No tree lasts forever. “It’s just sheer age,” said Pohrebniuk. “Some of these trees are over 100 years old.”
To be able to look up to heritage trees in future, and enjoy the multiple benefits of trees in general, we need to keep planting them. “Trees provide shade and oxygen, they stabilize soil and boost wildlife,” said Pohrebniuk. “They serve as noise barriers. In the shelter belts on the farms they catch the snowload. They just give back so much.”
September 21 to 26 was National Forest Week in Manitoba. The MFA estimated it will have distributed more than 100,000 white spruce seedlings, Manitoba’s provincial tree, during that week.
Manitoba has committed to seeing five million trees planted over the next five years.