Environment ‘taking a hit’ from province

North Bay Nugget

But loss of 50 Million Tree Program may present opportunities for private foresters

The Ontario government has cancelled the 50 Million Tree Program. Trees Ontario Photo

The Ontario government’s cancellation of a long-running tree planting program will come at a cost for the environment and jobs, but may also present new opportunities, local forestry consultants say.

Sarah and Steve Bros, registered professional foresters and partners of Merin Forest Management in North Bay, say the loss of the 50 Million Tree Program will have implications for firms in southern Ontario, but also raises questions about the use of taxpayer dollars to improve the properties of private landowners.

“The fact that the ministry cancelled this program, it’s really unfortunate,” said Sarah, a former planting agent with the program who secured funding and prescribed trees for landowners.

“Because when you think of it, it’s just another thing where the environment is taking a hit in terms of doing good things for the environment.”

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry informed Forests Ontario about the program’s elimination shortly after the release of the provincial budget.

Started in 2008 as a carbon-sequestration program, the goal was to plant 50 million trees by 2025, according to Forests Ontario.

Since then, more than 27 million trees have been planted across the province.

Sarah said while there was always going to be a finite amount of money for the program, people began to see the importance of it, not only in providing subsidies for tree planting, but for bank stabilization and afforestation, or the process of creating a new forest.

Steve, meanwhile, said the program applied only to private property, which won’t affect forest management on Crown land, where most of Ontario’s forests are located.

He also noted that the program covered up to 90 per cent of the costs for tree planting.

“You’re basically taking $4.7 million of taxpayers’ money and you’re giving it to private landowners to improve their property,” he said.

But in light of the federal government’s carbon tax, which has been applied in Ontario, Steve said this could be an opportunity for larger companies to offset their emissions.

“I view this is an opportunity for a market to be created here, whereby we’re not using tax dollars (and) whereby you’ll have the bigger polluters stepping up to the plate.”

Forests Ontario CEO Rob Keen said it was able to develop an effective collaboration with a network of partners, from conservation authorities and forestry groups to consultants, First Nations and municipalities,

Of its $4.7-million budget, just over 80 per cent of the money went directly to its partners, he said.

“So it really is somewhat of a shock to have found out it was cancelled and the impacts that that’s going to have on our tree planting activities in southern and central Ontario.”

Self-employed Huntsville forester Duncan Heyblom worked as a consultant with the program for about three to four years.

He called the province’s decision “short sighted” and said it’ll have a fairly significant impact on nurseries and their stock.

“It’s pretty tragic that they’re stopping a program like this that was heading in the right direction that way.”

Wayne Pawson, a plant delivery agent for First Resource Management Group, said in the past three years the company has planted approximately 300,000 trees in the North Bay and surrounding area for Forests Ontario.

He said Forests Ontario wanted to expand north, creating an opportunity for afforestation on marginal farmland, a lot of which is located in northeastern Ontario.

The benefits, Pawson said, were huge for wildlife and the environment, but also from a socioeconomic point of view, adding that landowners really appreciated what they were doing for them.

“I was disappointed with the news. It was a great program. I enjoyed the time I spent planting trees.” he said.

“We were creating future forests. We were interacting with the landowners and these newly established forests will … sequester carbon for the short and long term.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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