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Sizzling summer taking toll on Calgary's tree inventory, says city

Calgary’s hot, parched summer is taking a toll on the city’s urban canopy, a city official said Tuesday, as some residents raise concerns about an apparent lack of watering.

With temperatures in the 30C range continuing into late August after an unusually hot and dry season, some of the city’s tree inventory is noticeably suffering from lack of moisture, said Jeannette Wheeler, the city’s urban forestry lead.

And those signs — falling branches and early yellowing of leaves — have been noticeable for weeks, she said.

“Since July, some of the trees have been showing signs of drought,” said Wheeler.

“Public trees are showing signs of stress due to lack of water.”

Wheeler said she didn’t want to speculate about how many of the city’s more than 500,000 public trees might not survive what meteorologists are calling Calgary’s hottest summer in 136 years of record-keeping.

But she urged homeowners to give trees on their own property “a good soaking.”

It’s all part of an urban forest that took a severe pounding following a freak, heavy snowfall in early September 2014, which ravaged half the city’s trees and prompted a $12-million restoration effort.

“Obviously, we have some concerns, but the trees are hanging in,” Wheeler said of the stressed trees.

“If the drought persists for several seasons, it’ll have a real impact.”

Willow Park resident Alice Ogston said she’s alarmed at the condition of ornamental parks and their trees near her Willowfern Drive S.E. home, saying city crews haven’t watered them this summer.

“It’s horrifying to see these trees dying . . . I guess they can just charge the taxpayers more to replace them,” she said.

When she’s called the city to complain, Ogston said she’s been told it’s city policy not to water the parks, where she said grass and trees are burning up under this summer’s relentless sun.

“There are two little trees in the back of our fence that we water but that’s as far as our hose will go,” she said, adding sprinkler systems have remained dormant.

“The park’s being decimated but the water’s right there if you want to turn it on.”

Public trees receive water from city crews for their first five years,  said Wheeler.

“We only plan for what we maintain . . . we’re relying on Mother Nature to provide for us,” she said, adding tree species are chosen to withstand drought and other Prairie climatic conditions.

The city says it gives watering priority to heavy-use sports fields, regional parks and green spaces newly turned over to the city by developers, and that dry, brittle grass can bounce back.

Conserving water is another priority, though city officials say Calgarians aren’t facing rationing and that the overall supply is holding up well despite the drought.

So far this summer, the city’s received about 300 watering complaints, a greater number than normal due to the hot conditions.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/sizzling-summer-taking-toll-on-calgarys-tree-inventory-says-city