Forests Ontario

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Helping Seed Fall From the Trees…. To Become a Forest.

Posted: October 17, 2019

By Barb Boysen

This is a first note in a new series about seed – a call to work together to help seed become the forests we need.  This series is about society’s assumption that forests will always be a part of the Ontario landscape – and about how that is not true.

Did you notice this spring’s flowering? In the east, Sugar Maples were yellow from top to bottom. Not an annual event. In October, the wind will lay the seed down where it will be cold and moist over winter and germinate in the spring. Red Maples flower almost every year, the red haze is a harbinger of spring.  Their seed matures quickly and germinates in late June with no winter treatment needed.  Red oaks flower in May but acorns mature over two years.  They must tolerate a lot before germinating in spring 2021. These are three unique species of Ontario’s more than 100 equally unique native tree species.

If these flowers become seed (surviving storms, insects, critters), will they land where they can germinate, grow and thrive for 200 years? Think of the mown, cropped, grazed, paved margins of our remaining forests. Where can new forests grow naturally?

Forests are dynamic, shifting in species, health and age.  But society’s tendency to ignorantly bully its way across the land for short term, economic gain has damaged the forest’s capacity to regenerate itself.  We have lost soils and species and we have increased pressures from land development, invasive alien species, pollution, and climate change. We must intervene to help regenerate our forests. It’s complex to do right, and at a scale that makes a difference. It takes a lot of funding and expertise.  And very importantly, regeneration requires a lot of strategic planning and cooperation to do efficiently and effectively.

The process starts with getting the right seed, an incredibly interesting, complex undertaking.

Until the mid 90s the provincial government managed an afforestation program, the results of which can be seen from space. Hundreds of hectares of Conifer plantations restored harsh, dry, open conditions. These new forests shaded and nourished the soils and now provide wood product revenues. Most importantly, the restored sites allow Maples, Oaks, Hickories, etc. to naturally regenerate wherever forests exist close by to provide the seed.

By 1996, the province of Ontario had drastically reduced the Ministry of Natural Resources and cancelled its full-service tree planting programs. After the mid-90s only the Ontario Tree Seed Plant remained.  Gone was the government’s role in planning and operations, such as landowner communications, site preparation, seedling growing. planting and tending. Regardless, the seed plant continued to play an essential role. In 2007 the seed plant helped Forests Ontario to rebuild a program assisted by many local partners: the 50 Million Tree Program (50 MTP). We weren’t planting 20 million seedlings annually as the government had once done but we were building a program to deliver large scale, tree planting that respected basic principles necessary for success – native species adapted to the site, seed adapted to local climate, a seed bank to allow growers to produce the desired seedlings, and a planning system to support it all. Even a one-year old seedling requires three years of planning and operations to be ready for someone to plant it in the right place.

It’s now 2019. The tree seed plant is gone. The provincial government has ended all support for southern forest renewal at a time when worldwide experts are calling for more forests to be conserved and restored. Luckily, federal cash will allow the 50 MTP to continue.

We are at a significant crossroads. Will we lose our momentum and go back to the desperate times in the late 90s?

This is my plea to all who are concerned about the need for more forests in southern Ontario.  Contact Forests Ontario and the Forest Gene Conservation Association and work with us to keep our reforestation program alive and to be able to respond efficiently and effectively. Help us be ready when society wakes up to the need to plant the forests on which their future welfare depends.

I’ll end now paraphrasing Ed Patchell of the Ferguson Forest Centre – “Everyone can and should plant trees, but it takes a program to plant forests.”

Barb Boysen, General Manager at the Forest Gene Conservation Association, lives outside of Perth in eastern Ontario. You can reach Barb through fgcaontario@gmail.com