The Truth about the 50 Million Tree program

This past April the Ontario provincial government cancelled the 50 Million Tree Program. This program was created by the provincial government as a carbon sequestration program. A wonderful side effect of planting so many trees is how this also helps to clean the air and water, protect shorelines and reduce erosion in southern Ontario.

Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario, said since 2008 more than 27 million trees have been planted across Ontario through the program, which saved landowners up to 90 per cent of the costs of large-scale tree planting.

It was a sad day when the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry announced this cut.

Once I read the following quote from the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, I couldn’t quietly stand by.

First, here is the quote:

‘Justine Lewkowicz , spokesperson for Natural Resources and Forestry, said in a statement that the forestry industry, which depends on a sustainable supply of wood, is a responsible steward of the province’s forests.

“On average, the forestry industry plants 68 million trees per year, creating jobs for foresters, nurseries and tree planters,” she wrote.’

This statement is 100% true, however, it is misleading with respect to comparing it to the 50 Million Tree Program’s approximate 2.7 million trees planted per year.

Point One: ‘The forest industry is a responsible steward of the province’s forests’.

The industry is a responsible steward as they must adhere to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act (1994), (CFSA), is the regulatory framework ensuring the Crown lands (public lands) are taken care of to the standards expected by the people of Ontario. We (the people) are the landlord making the rules for our Crown lands. We should be reminded, therefore, the industry is doing a good job of adhering to our expectations, not that the industry is leading the charge in managing Crown forests for the betterment of Ontarians. In fact, we are known for having the best sustainably managed forests in the world.

Point Two: ‘On average, the forestry industry plants 68 million trees per year, creating jobs for foresters, nurseries and tree planters’

This statement is 100% true, however, it is misleading when compared to the 50 Million Tree Program. You need to understand two definitions before we go on; reforestation and afforestation.

Reforestation is defined as the replacement of trees where trees have been harvested. Afforestation is defined as planting trees where no trees have been growing for a long time (i.e. abandoned farm fields), thereby creating new forests.

The 68 million trees planted on Crown land is a required by law under the CFSA as a reforestation function of recently harvested lands, therefore, this activity ensures the health of existing forests but does very little to add additional forests further enhancing carbon sequestration.

Since 2008 more than 27 million trees have been planted across Ontario by the 50 Million Tree Program. Since only abandoned farm lands were planted, this is 100% an afforestation effort. That’s a pure carbon sequestration effort!

On the topic of employment, yes the forested Crown lands are great employers, however, one must be reminded that the areas planted under the 50 Million Tree program also creates jobs now and in the future. Everybody sees the planting jobs now, but in the future many of these forests will be available for wood resources, much like the harvesting of pine stands now that were planted 50 years ago. (How much additional land would that be in the future? To date approximately 14,000ha (34,500acres) of potential wood supply as well as all the other values our forests provide.

My summary is that the Natural Resources and Forestry Minister John Yakabuski is justifying the cancelling of the 50 Million Tree program by trivializing it compared to the Crown land reforestation efforts. The most dramatic influence of using trees to slow down climate change is right here in Southern Ontario by afforestation efforts.

Quick facts

  • Trees planted since the program began now sequester more than 21,000 tonnes of carbon annually.

  • In 2019, the 50 Million Tree Program received funding from the Government of Canada. This support as well as support from corporate sponsors and donors ensures we’re able to continue tree planting on private lands and continuing our contribution to fighting climate change. .

  • What can you do?

  1. Plant trees

  2. Write to the Minister John Yakabuski at the Ministry Natural Resources and Forestry to support afforestation along with reforestation in this province.

  3. Donate to support tree planting.

Gerald Guenkel RPF

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