WINNIPEG -- Trees Winnipeg, a local non-profit, is sounding the alarm on the city's elm population by naming 2021 'Year of the Elm Tree' and launching a year-long public education campaign.

Winnipeg's elm canopy has come under attack from Dutch elm disease, first detected in the province in 1975, with cases skyrocketing in 2016.

"If you look back at the last five years in our history, we lost over 33,000 elms to Dutch elm disease alone," said Gerry Engel, president of Trees Winnipeg.

To put things in perspective, that's equivalent to losing all of the trees on 330 Winnipeg streets, based on an average of 100 elms per block.

Winnipeg still has the largest number of city elms in North America, but without action, Engel says irreparable damage will be done and the city will join others like Montreal and Toronto, whose elm tree population has been devastated by Dutch elm disease.

"Dutch elm disease is now taking whole neighbourhoods, such as the West End. It is the tipping point for Winnipeg's urban canopy," said Engel. "If we don't act now, in a generation or less, our elm canopy will be significantly smaller than what we enjoy today.

Reasons for the spike in the disease include misinformation and delays in the removal of infected trees, a key process in controlling the outbreak.

Engel believes a change in the approach to tree maintenance could have a positive effect on the elm tree population.

"The simple act of regularly watering an elm on a city boulevard could give it the edge it needs to survive, which in turn will help protect any surrounding elms – including the ones on your property," he said.

With this in mind, the aim of the 'Year of the Elm' campaign is to get more information and tips on simple tree care into the hands of Winnipeggers, which in turn can help stop the spread of Dutch elm disease.