Jennifer Kornelsen and her daughter kneel next to one of many Langside Street trees that were damaged by snow machines on March 16.Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published 11:00 Apr 14, 2022

By Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Jennifer Kornelsen was glad to see graders going past her Langside Street home on March 16. The street was full of icy ruts, so the thought of heavy equipment scouring it to the pavement was a relief.

“Then it was in the afternoon I went outside, and I just saw all these trees gashed,” Kornelsen said. She took photos of a dozen freshly damaged elm trees on her street between Sargent and Cumberland Avenues. STREETS counted about half of the 44 boulevard trees on the block sustained injuries that exposed wood under scraped away tree bark.

Kornelsen sent an email to 311 and Daniel McIntyre Coun. Cindy Gilroy, including a photo collage of 12 freshly damaged tree trunks.

Gilroy responded to the email the next day, thanking Kornelsen and pledging to follow up with the public works department.

“Wow, I am speechless at the lack of care demonstrated by the operator at your location,” Gilroy wrote.

An email response from a 311 service representative arrived a day later, giving Kornelsen a reference number and pledging forestry staff from public works would inspect the area and determine a course of action within 30 days. 

“This is definitely disappointing to see,” the 311 service representative wrote.

 Kornelsen worries the damage could make the trees more susceptible to disease.

“We’re already losing so many of our old elms in the city, it just regrettable that something like this, that is so avoidable, could happen.”

The cost of replacing trees that may potentially be lost due to the damage also bothers her.

“We’re paying to have streets cleared, but the contractors cause so much damage that we’ll pay again to replace trees that are hurt.”

Edwin Langenbach, a senior arborist at Green Drop, which contracts with the city to do pruning and Dutch elm removal, said he has seen a lot of tree damage throughout Winnipeg from snow-clearing equipment.

“It’s really kind of shocking to see it’s happening on such a large scale. It’s not just in the West End, it’s happening all over the city,” says Langenbach. 

Damage to the layer just under the bark is “horrible for the trees,” he says, impeding water and nutrients from reaching the canopy and making trees more vulnerable to disease.

“It just has to heal on its own, but that can take years for that kind of a wound to heal,” says Langenbach.

In an email response, Winnipeg public works spokesman Ken Allen could not confirm if the crew responsible for the March 16 damage were private contractors or city employees.

“If it was determined that damage to a tree was done by a private contractor working on our behalf, the remedy for damages is in the contracts signed with the city,” Allen said, while damage by a city crew would be addressed through the public works department’s budget.

The city pegs the value of a mature elm to be about $8,000.

Allen said the city partners with the Heavy Equipment & Aggregate Truckers Association of Manitoba Inc. to develop training on best practices for snow removal. He could not confirm how many trees are damaged by snow removal during a typical winter.

Although scraping bark off a tree causes it stress, requiring it to divert energy to heal, the prognosis is favourable, Allen said.

“Healthy American elms are generally good at closing and repairing wounds.”

Photos of damaged trunks Kornelsen emailed to 311 and Coun. Cindy Gilroy.