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LETTER: Caterpillar invasion making some Barrie boulevards look like January

'There is no better place to enjoy your cold beer than under the generous shade of a tree,' says reader
2021-06-22 Gypsy moth caterpillar RB002
A gypsy moth caterpillar in central Barrie.

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Look up and down your street. On my street, trees were planted after the houses were built around 35 years ago.

Step back into the street and look at the backyard trees. Where these didn’t interfere with construction, they were left and are far older than the neighbourhood. On my street, many of these backyard trees are oaks, at least a century old.

This summer, the oaks are bare, as are perhaps 30 per cent of the street trees. If not for the heat, it could well be January!

This is a good time to consider the value of trees to us and to our city.

Looking up at my street tree this morning, I spotted a bird’s nest. Birds probably nest in that tree every year, but are so hidden by leaves that I never noticed. The larger, messy squirrel nests are also visible everywhere. Trees are a refuge for wildlife and help preserve local biodiversity.

Trees create shade, which moderates the heat of a sunny summer day. There are other forms of shade in our world but most of these, such as buildings, also block cooling breezes, and much of the view. In fact, there is no better place to enjoy your cold beer than under the generous shade of a tree.

A temperature measurement can demonstrate that a street with mature trees is 2 to 4 Celsius cooler in summer than a street with no trees.

Walking some of the nature trails around Barrie, you can see how tree roots help prevent soil erosion.

Over a decade ago, my wife and I rowed the length of the Canal du Midi in southern France. An early canal built in the reign of Louis XIV, some 350 years ago, the canal was lined on both sides by plane trees (sycamores here). These provided very welcome shade from the noonday sun. Their roots appeared to form around 30 per cent of the canal banks – a sturdy, living, wooden wall keeping erosion at bay.

Unfortunately, a fungal disease has begun to attack the trees. As they die, the canal will lose a great deal of its unique beauty and may require far more maintenance...

Closer to home, I will not be sitting under any of my trees this summer. Their shade is thin or absent now, and the thought of caterpillars dropping into my beer is not tempting! Thirty years ago, I planted a maple tree to shade a picture window in summer, but let the winter sun brighten the room. It is casting little shade this summer, so making my air conditioner work harder.

Now, let’s talk money. Imagine yourself considering the purchase of two similar houses, one on a street with mature trees, the other on a street with no trees. Which one would you buy? How much more would you be willing to pay for a house on a shady street versus the same house on a street with no trees?

Even if you set aside all the other benefits of trees: shade, habitat, soil retention, and ambience, their presence on your street enhances the value of your property very considerably.

Unfortunately, it has taken a plague of caterpillars for us to truly appreciate that!

Peter Bursztyn