Kudos to Environmental Commissioner and Trees Ontario
By Ken Black
Huntsville, ON, October 15, 2010 – “The Ontario government needs to give more direction as to where, what and how many trees should be planted to restore our woodlands in Southern Ontario.” So says Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller in his 2009/2010 Annual Report.
While acknowledging existing tree planting programs in Ontario, Miller states that without overarching provincial direction, “Fewer trees are now planted, plantations are smaller and seedlings are not as available as they were in the past.”
The Ontario government has a proud history of involvement in tree planting. During the 1990s planting programs were scaled back and nurseries closed. While an average of 20-30 million trees was planted every year prior to the 1980’s, annual plantings have shrunk to an average three million trees today.
Given that federal guidelines recommend that all watersheds should have 30 per cent forest cover, and that many watersheds in Ontario fall far short of that figure, Miller argues the province needs to increase current efforts related to identifying and protecting significant woodland. It needs to set more ambitious targets.
Miller says, “I recommend the ministry set itself a target of one billion trees. That target is more in line with the enormous challenges we face.” He also identifies the services trees provide. They are critically important to our urban areas and ecosystems. They provide wildlife habitat and welcome green space for people, they store and filter groundwater, they help cool urban areas and streams, and they soak up carbon dioxide.
Needed is a strategy that sets provincial planting targets, requires that appropriate native species be used, sets out priorities for key planting areas (such as watersheds with less than 30 per cent forest cover), and provides mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
While the Ontario government has yet to respond in any detailed way to Miller’s call to action, there was no delay by Rob Keen, CEO and President of Trees Ontario. He was quick to respond with an open letter-to-the-editor which led off with an unequivocal, “We planted a billion trees in the province once, and we can do it again.”
Rob Keen is no stranger in Muskoka. He is a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) who once operated a consulting business in this area, providing forestry services to private landowners and municipalities such as the District of Muskoka, developed forest management plans on Crown and private land, and led forest audits for the Forest Stewardship Council and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
He was a Director and Chair of the Algonquin Forestry Authority, and served on the Board of the Ontario Forestry Association for 10 years. More recently, through his work with Trees Ontario, he has been supportive of the work of Westwind Forest Stewardship Inc., the Parry Sound-Muskoka Stewardship Network, the Muskoka Watershed Council, Muskoka Heritage Trust and the Muskoka Heritage Foundation, and their Envirocredits initiative.
Keen argues that Miller’s numbers are neither daunting nor unrealistic, pointing out that in the 1970s, 80s and even early 90s, 20-30 million trees a year were being planted on private rural lands. He correctly concludes, “Total up tree planting rates from the 1920s to mid 90s and what do you get? A billion trees planted in the province of Ontario.”
What does it all mean? As he should have, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner has drawn attention to a serious shortfall in services provided to the people of Ontario by their elected government. Addressing that problem does not require a huge new bureaucratic structure.
Trees Ontario, a largely taxpayer funded organization with a history of success in working with government agencies, private individuals, not-for-profit organizations and the corporate sector has responded to Miller’s call-to-action by identifying how they can play a key role.
They confirm that Ontario’s overall tree planting infrastructure is now being re-established, and capacity on all fronts is growing. As the largest not-for-profit tree planting partnership in North America, Trees Ontario is helping to rebuild and grow afforestation programs in the province, and is the lead delivery agent for the Ontario government efforts to plant 50 million trees by 2025.
While that is a major commitment from the government, meeting the Trees Ontario goal of increasing annual planting levels to 10 million trees a year and reaching the 30 percent forest cover that Gord Miller calls for will require increased financial support― from government, individuals, small business and corporations.
Planting more trees will clean Ontario’s air, restore watersheds, re-establish wildlife habitat and buffer against the effects of climate change. As Rob Keen points out, “It is all about our future and collective health. We did it once and we can do it again.”
It’s time to get on with it.