Forests Ontario

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The Show Must Go On: South Nation plants record number of trees despite challenges of COVID-19

Posted: June 11, 2020

By: Peter Kuitenbrouwer

This spring, South Nation Conservation Authority (SNC) ordered 144,000 tree seedlings. Authority staff were prepared to plant a record number of trees in this watershed south of Ottawa. Then COVID-19 hit.

“If we weren’t able to pull those seedlings out of the ground in the nursery and plant them, we would have had to throw them away,” said John Mesman of SNC. “We worked with our local MP and the province, and we got the news that tree planting is considered an essential service. It supports one of the key economic drivers of Canada: the forest industry.”

During the plantings, the conservation authority and its partners proceeded with caution. Ferguson Nursery in Kemptville, South Nation’s main tree supplier, required all staff and contractors to quarantine for 14 days before the planting season. This measure helped mitigate the risk of virus transmission. The tree planting contractor, Brinkman Reforestation Ltd., ensured its planters did not share vehicles or tents. Staff regularly sanitized all vehicles and crews worked in smaller groups.

Thanks to these careful precautions, the planting season went off without a hitch.

“It’s beautiful out here today,” Cheyene Brunet, a forest technician with SNC, said in May. She was speaking from the Larose Forest, an 11,0000-hectare man-made forest that is the product of consistent tree planting since 1928. This May, crews underplanted 55,000 seedlings in this forest: White Pine, Bur Oak, Red Oak, Hemlock and Sugar Maple. That’s about double the total trees last year.

“We have had fantastic weather,” said Brunet. “Everything has gone pretty great this year.”

With help from Forests Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program (50 MTP), planters also put more than 90,000 seedlings in the ground all over the South Nation watershed. SNC already has orders for another record planting season in 2021.

“We have done a lot more outreach work in the past two or three years and obviously it is paying off in terms of getting more trees in the ground,” Mesman said. South Nation now offers a Woodlot Advisory Service: a free site visit from Brunet or another forest technician. SNC also offers a $500 grant to help landowners to create a forest plan. A forest plan can make a landowner eligible for tax savings under the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (see p. 19).

“It’s an extra incentive to keep it forested,” Mesman said. “The property owner might look to plant more trees.”

Steve Hunter, the forester for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell, which includes Larose Forest, said that while his team has weathered the pandemic, they face another tricky challenge: lack of seedlings.

“Red Oak outperform the White Pine on the drier sites,” he said. “Our biggest issue is we can’t get enough Red Oak seedlings. There’s not a lot of seed collectors in eastern Ontario.”

Hunter said that when Ontario cut funding for the 50 MTP last year, “we were holding our breath.” He was pleased when Ottawa rescued the program.

“The fact that Forests Ontario is planting trees will attract tree planting contractors to come here,” he said. In eastern Ontario, most trees are planted by hand. According to Hunter, tree planting efforts by neighbouring Raisin Region and Rideau Valley conservation authorities under the 50 MTP all help to build a tree-planting ecosystem. “On our own we might have a difficult time getting a tree-planting contractor to come out here.”