It is now a month after “Ice Storm 2013” and the reality of what really happened hasn’t completely set in. Tree branches are still everywhere – on the ground, dangling dangerously from the trees – the harsh aftermath of December 22nd, 2013 will be part of our landscape for a few years. Recovery is going to take more than a massive game of “pick up sticks.” The timing of this storm caught everyone by surprise as attention was definitely elsewhere as Christmas approached. Although we are Canadians, and hockey is our national sport, we weren’t ready for this much “ice” time! Photography by Amelia Higgins, Heart Lake
How often does something like this happen?
“It highlights the fact that, though we are Canadian, we weren’t prepared,” begins Shawn Patille of WildThing Naturescapes, a biologist who is a tree specialist and educator. I first met Shawn in a Facebook community group called “Heart Lake Happenings,” an active, near 500 strong, vocal and growing group of concerned citizens who hold bi-monthly community meetings with both their City electors present. For the past month, Shawn has been answering questions and, on February 4th, he will facilitate a group panel to discuss “what happened” and “now what?”
Though Shawn is not a resident, he is employed in the area and his family lives in Peel Village. He was in Brampton during the Ice Storm and awakened, like all of us, to the devastation. His passion for Heart Lake Conservation includes reptiles and amphibians, as well as his fondness for nature’s landscape. Since 2011, he has assisted the TRCA and local concerned citizens in counting ‘vehicle wildlife interactions’ and compiling the results for ongoing studies.
HeartLake is the headwaters for the Etobicoke Creek swamps and, in 2012, he compared its conditions to regions of Carolina and suggested the area could probably weather tulip trees. With TRCA’s permission, he and colleagues planted a few to see how they would winter. “In spring 2013, as colleagues returned to the area, they were happy to report the trees are healthy and growing fine,” he smiles, and you know his passion for trees is genuine, not commercial.
So why did the Ice Storm happen? Global warming?
“The problem wasn’t so much what happened, but why it happened. It’s a result of the way we’ve gone about planting urban trees in the past.” Shawn explains attention is given to fast growing, hybrid mono culture plantings, with rows and rows of the same tree type, all the same age.
So what’s the difference between native and hybrid trees?
“Native American Elm trees across the US and Canada have a beautiful arching habit and are very lovely,” he explains. “They provide the urban landscape with sidewalk shade and are never scorched by the sun; they are fantastic! However, along the years, municipalities and tree growers introduced other varieties of elm and we lost both native and these hybrids to Dutch Elm disease. Though foresters were taught to not plant a monoculture, they proceeded and planted all ash trees, and look at the situation we now have. The Emerald Ash Borer is a problem in our naturescape and these trees are slated to come down. We already lost a lot of our canopy in just ash trees alone over recent years as someone in charge of urban tree planting, once upon a time, had this great idea to plant varietals of fast growing Green Ash, White Ash and Red Ash monocultures to dot city roads.” But, as Ash trees were heaviest hit during the Ice Storm, ironically it has probably helped wipe out the assault of this growing epidemic.