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Amherst Island resident named Trees Ontario Green Leader for leading local movement

Amherst Island, ON, March 14, 2011 – Amherst Island, just west of Kingston, claims to be the “Gem of Lake Ontario” renowned for its tranquility and peace, bird watching, bicycling, music concerts, crafts, and much more. Local resident Steve Hart along with Trees Ontario and the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority, hope to add one more attribute to that list – home to acres of beautiful trees and forests.

Achieving this goal isn’t going to be easy. Amherst Island is an un-friendly home for trees. The island is overrun by voles (field mice), rabbits and deer. All three feast on tree seedlings and eat the bark of the more mature trees leaving a trail of devastation. The limestone-based Island is also home to shallow and nutrient-poor soil that is covered with fields of hay and tall grasses. The fields rapidly choke and kill newly planted seedlings.

Steve grew up in Belleville. His father was an avid tree planter who over the years owned various cottages along the shores of Lake Ontario. Each time he purchased a new cottage, his priority was always to plant as many trees as he could. He understood the beauty and benefits they would bring.

“It was these early experiences with my dad that really developed my love of trees and created my desire to someday own my own home on Lake Ontario,” said Steve.

In 1978 when Steve purchased his future retirement property on the shore of Amherst Island, it was no surprise that the first thing he did was approach the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to inquire about tree planting. He wanted to learn about the incentives and support available to landowners.

“Knowing the challenges that existed on the island, the ministry didn’t think trees would grow on my property and was reluctant to include me in one of its tree-planting programs,” said Steve. “I pleaded my case, told them I would set up vole control stations around the property and do all the things necessary to monitor and nurture the new seedlings. They must have seen how serious I was and approved the planting of 10,000 new trees on my land.”

Steve worked hard to ensure as many trees from that original planting survived…and many did. In 1990, he learned that government tree planting subsidies were ending so he needed to apply right away if he wanted to do another planting. He did and secured the subsidies and support to plant an additional 50,000 trees. In subsequent years, even with no government support, Steve purchased 400 red oaks that he planted on his own – each in their own plastic protective tubes. His care and tending has seen 300 of these grow into healthy trees – a remarkable success rate.

“There are so many benefits to planting trees but the prospect of buying and planting acres of trees can be a daunting task for many landowners, not to mention a costly and extremely labour- intensive proposition. The government incentives, subsidies and planting support available are so crucial to building healthy, sustainable forests in this province,” added Steve.

Unfortunately, in the 1990s with changes to government funding for regreening initiatives, rural tree planting programs on private lands in Ontario disappeared. In several regions, Ontario’s forest cover is now as low as 5 per cent. This is far below the minimum 30% forest cover required to maintain a healthy sustainable environment. The lack of sufficient forest cover in Ontario is now compromising the health of the environment and taking a toll on the physical and mental health of the people who live here. To get Ontario’s environment and ecosystem back into balance one billion new trees are needed. Now, Trees Ontario, partners and new government support programs are working hard to rebuild tree planting programs across the province.

Seeing the impact and need for more trees in the province, the Ontario government introduced the 50 Million Tree Program in 2007 that has set aside the funding and resources to support landowners in the planting of 50 million trees across the province by 2025. The program is managed by Trees Ontario who works with local conservation authorities, stewardship councils, First Nations communities and forestry experts as part of the largest not-for-profit tree planting partnership in North America.

News of the program spread rapidly across Amherst Island. Residents saw what Steve had accomplished on his property and wanted the same for their land. The Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority received numerous requests for tree planting projects – including one from Steve to plant an additional 6,000 trees.

Today, Steve monitors and nurtures his seedlings to ensure they mature into healthy trees. He mows between the trees to keep the weeds from choking them out and maintains many vole control stations around the property.

When you look across the Island, Steve’s land stands out…lush and green…an emerald on the “Gem of Lake Ontario”. The hope is that it won’t be long before other landowners turn their shoreline properties into tree-covered sanctuaries. For his efforts and stewardship of the land, Steve was recently named a Trees Ontario Green Leader – a designation he is proud of and one he hopes others on the island will receive one day.

“Trees do so many wonderful things,” said Steve. “But for me, it is also about leaving things in a better state than how I found them.”

And there is one more thing that Steve sees as a benefit to planting all of these trees. “Not only can I enjoy them, the trees also increase the value of the land that I will leave to my five daughters.”

Steve continued, “It is rare that you can spend your time, energy and money on something that you can enjoy and benefit from now but that will also benefit your children in the future. As I like to say, every time an oak tree grows, their inheritance grows.”

Steve Hart has led the way in changing marginal and challenging land into something that will enhance the environment, improve people’s physical and mental health and help Ontario get even closer to reaching its tree planting goals.

For more information about the 50 Million Tree Program and other tree planting programs as well as local tree planting workshops to help you get started, visit: