MONTREAL -- Got an ash tree on your property? Join a very sad club.

Ash trees have become Montreal’s 15-million-dollar-problem. The city has spent nearly that much in the last eight years fighting the infamous emerald ash borer, a beetle that kills ash trees.

Unfortunately, Montreal has 1.2 million of this type of tree in the city, and it’s had to cull tens of thousands of them in an effort that massively ramped up last year.

In 2019, city staff cut down neary 18,000 beetle-infected ash trees, twice as many as the previous year.

Ruthlessness is necessary since the bug spreads easily, and in the long run, acting fast can save more trees, explains Robert Beaudry, a member of the city’s executive committee.

“Infested trees can infect other trees, and if we want to fight against the insect, we have to treat all the trees,” he said.

The good news is that the effort seems to be working. Montreal has also treated around 57,000 ash trees every two years, which helps.

But the speed of the campaign means it has to be equally speedy in planting new species. It’s on a mission to plant 40,000 trees this year. That’s on top of the more than 170,000 that have been planted since the start of Montreal’s urban forestry program eight years ago.

In 2020, the overall budget for the urban forest manegement program is $24 million, Beaudry said. 

“In other words, we have stepped up the pace and we intend to sustain this momentum.”

For people who have an ash tree on their property, now’s the time to act, the city says. It’s offering free treatment for the bug, or partial reimbursement if the tree needs to come down.