On Tuesday, April 16, 2019, the CEO of North Greenville’s Ferguson Tree Nursery received a phone call from Forests Ontario, informing him that the provincial government had cancelled the 50 Million Tree Program (50MTP), effective immediately. No explanation was provided. Forests Ontario sent a follow-up letter of confirmation on April 18, in which they requested that Ferguson Forest Centre not inform the public at that time, to allow Forests Ontario time to formulate a response to the cut. Forests Ontario, a not-for-profit charity, had been responsible for delivery of the provincial government’s 50 Million Tree Program.
The loss of this program will have a significant impact on the Ferguson Forest Centre, as well as many other growers and planters in the province, and will have enormous negative economic and environmental impacts.
At a time when the global scientific community is continually uncovering a growing knowledge on the importance of forests and finding ever-increasing evidence of the vast benefits of reforestation, it is hard to imagine how a government could be so short-sighted, especially in the face of increasingly extreme weather-driven events such as the flooding that is happening now across much of Ontario, and beyond.
It is doubly baffling when, just last month, on March 2, Queen’s Park announced the release of a new Forests Ontario report “The Economic Value of Tree Planting in Southern Ontario”, prepared by Guelph-based consulting firm Green Analytics.
Highlights from the release are as follows:
At the Ontario Legislature, Rob Keen, Registered Professional Forester and Forests Ontario CEO along with Peter Emon, long standing County of Renfrew Councilor and Reeve of Renfrew, described how the province has benefited from ten planting seasons of the 50MTP. Since 2008, the Program has facilitated the planting of more than 24 million trees over 14,800 hectares, an area equivalent to one-quarter the size of Lake Simcoe. These plantings sequester 19,000 tonnes of carbon each year – the same amount of carbon emitted from driving more than 80 million kilometres.
Reeve Emon observed that in addition to obvious environmental benefits, “Tree planting leads to jobs and economic gains, as nurseries, landowners, municipalities and forestry consultants engage in tree planting activities.” The County of Renfrew, Ontario’s largest county, is located one hour west of Ottawa in the Ottawa Valley – an area well-known for its history of forestry, where families have taken excellent care of the region’s forest resources for more than six decades. Through the 50MTP, more than one million trees have been planted in the County of Renfrew.
The 50MTP plants 2.3 million trees each year. According to the report, these plantings create a direct annual expenditure stimulus of $7.2 million per year and result in a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stimulus of $12.7 million annually.
“The employment generated by the 50MTP is equivalent to 103 full time jobs per year, or more than 300 full-time seasonal jobs,” explains Mr. Keen. This does not even begin to consider the jobs supported by the extra 180,000 trees planted annually though other programs leveraged by Forests Ontario.
Mr. Keen shared more good news by referring to the report’s calculations of the ecosystem service benefits derived from tree planting. Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being, and can include carbon sequestration, recreation opportunities, gas regulation, water supply regulation, and nutrient and waste regulation.
Using standardized techniques for calculating ecosystem services, Green Analytics demonstrated that the trees planted through Forests Ontario’s efforts are conservatively valued at $82.7 million annually. For every $1.80 that the Government of Ontario provides Forests Ontario to support tree planting, no less than $19.85 in ecosystem service value is derived; this translates to an 11:1 return on investment. “The value of the ecosystem services will increase over time as planted trees mature and new trees continue to be planted,” notes Mr. Keen.
From Reeve Emon’s perspective as an elected municipal representative for 30 years, he wishes that there were more programs that provide this kind of value, both in terms of cost efficiency, and economic, environmental and societal benefits. “This report is important, because it speaks to all three of these ‘legs of the stool,’” explains Emon, who went on to say, “Renfrew County landowners know trees; they believe planting trees is important for the environment and economy. This makes the 50MTP a good use of taxpayer dollars. When I talk with other politicians across the province, nobody ever says I want fewer trees.
He concludes, “Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Yakabuski can tell his cabinet colleagues that even before the ecosystem services are calculated, he is realizing a 3:1 return on his investment in the 50MTP.”
Mr. Keen’s message to Natural Resources and Forestry Minister, John Yakabuski and his cabinet colleagues, about the clear benefits of 50MTP, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
MPP John Yakabuski released a statement on April 25, in which he states that the 50MTP is nothing more than the previous Liberal government’s frivolous use of taxpayer dollars and claims the program was unnecessary duplication that couldn’t compete with the volume of trees replanted by the logging industry.
One would expect the Minister of Natural Resources to know the difference between the requirement for the logging industry to plant trees and the reforestation efforts of conservation organizations, stewardship groups and First Nations for environmental benefit. The logging industry plants in order to replace the trees they cut and to ensure their industry’s future, replacing mature trees with seedlings. One might also expect Leeds – Grenville MPP Steve Clark to stand up and fight to keep a beneficial program with such a positive economic and environmental impact within his riding. Neither seems to be the case.
Clearly, the loss of 50MTP will have significant impacts to the economy and our environment. At a time when the impacts of global warming are, and will increasingly be, far more significant than previously believed, this program is more important than ever.
This is a crucial time to plant more trees each year, not less.
As a result of the cancellation of the highly acclaimed 50MTP, the Ferguson Forest Centre must now cut its seedling program significantly, lay off staff and refrain from filling a large number of seasonal positions this summer and fall. The loss of these jobs at Ferguson, and likely at other affected seedling and planting operations, will affect many local economies across the province, however this loss of reforestation will ultimately be most harmful to the environment, with the loss contributing to more severe storms, poorer air quality, reduced carbon mitigation, soil erosion and flooding.
Action must be taken not only to re-establish this program, but also to strengthen it. The not-for-profit, self-sustaining Ferguson Forest Centre Corporation (FFCC) was created in November 2000 and provides policy and direction for the Centre. It operates through its volunteer board of directors and professional staff. The Centre consists of the Ferguson Tree Nursery, Veteran’s Way Memorial Park, the Arboretum, Anniversary Park, Kinderwood and many nature trails and forested lands. It also supports numerous organizations and services including the Friends of the Ferguson Forest Centre, the Giving Garden and the Ferguson Forest Dog Park.