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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Greenway

ACRE sources disease-free elm, butternut trees

If you’ve been strolling through the Hills over the past several years – along the Meech Creek eco corridor, through the Jolicoeur-McMartin Forest, in and out of the Hundred Acre Wood – you may have noticed less and less butternut and elm trees. 

That’s because most of them have been wiped out by diseases such as Dutch Elm Disease and Canker and have been rapidly disappearing from the Gatineau Hills landscape. 

“It has virtually killed them all,” said Action for the Respect of the Environment President Stephen Woodley, referring to how canker – an invasive fungus – has killed nearly every butternut left in the region. “We have just remnant butternut left, and most of them are dying that are left. Butternut is the only tree here that produces a big edible nut, and people have always eaten butternut here.”

Butternuts are also important for local fauna, as squirrels and other rodents feed on them. Woodley added that one tree can produce a “bucket of nuts” that humans, rodents, and sometimes deer will feed on. 

However, the environmental organization in Chelsea has found a solution that should replenish both the butternut and elm populations in the region within the next few decades. ACRE has sourced disease-resistant butternut trees through the Forest Gene Conservation Association of Ontario (FGCA) and Dutch-elm resistance elms through the University of Guelph, which it plans to plant throughout several forests that the organization acquired as eco lands.  Woodley said the area is under attack by invasive species, and ACRE is fighting back. 

“Our forests, even the ones that aren’t subject to development, are getting really hit hard by invasive fungus and invasive insects,” said Woodley. “We're having a tsunami of invasive species wreaking havoc in our forests. So, this is a small attempt to fight back against that. And we're planting two trees, both of which are endangered.”

According to ACRE Program Manager Valeria Kuzivanova, the FGSA tested pure butternuts that were showing “signs of putative tolerance to canker.” The seedlings were then grown in the field for one season in 2022 and in pots for a second season in 2023. The trees are now ready to be transplanted to Chelsea. 

“The FGSA has been observing them for many years, and they've never had any traces of Canker,” she said. “As part of an agreement with FGSA, we will monitor these trees for a minimum of five years and send reports on their health." 

ACRE will be getting 60 butternut trees and however many elms can fit in the truck and will be hosting a volunteer planting day sometime this May.  ACRE plans to plant the trees on all of its properties, including Place Eco Rubin in Pontiac, Hundred Acre Wood in Wakefield and Jolicoeur-McMartin,  Larrimac,  Dionne-Wilson forests in Chelsea.


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