June 2010 issue
“An old-growth forest is not just a collection of trees frozen in time like a photograph. It contains a history of what came before and the potential for what is to come.”
Photo: Eamon Mac Mahon
||Read success stories from Ontario communities racing to plant 50 million trees.
||Discover videos, interactive features and photos on the ideas, science and communities behind our biodiversity issue.
What is Biodiversity?
The word invokes the splendour of our world. In 2010 we celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity, yet many living things are in imminent danger of going extinct. Read more
Biosphere Reserves such as Clayoquot Sound aim to prove that rich natural environments go hand-in-hand with vibrant economies. Read more
From studying slugs to searching for swans and monitoring pine martens, citizen scientists keep watch over our changing world. Read more
50 Million Trees
Ontario has an ambitious plan to reforest the most populated part of Canada. But first it must grapple with landowners and fragmented landscapes. Read more
Goodbye Tallgrass Prairie
Once covering 6,000 square kilometres in Manitoba’s Red River Valley, the tallgrass prairie has all but vanished from the Canadian landscape.
Are “invasive” species hitching rides to new habitats all that bad for our ecosystems? Read more
Gerard Daechsel lives as a freegan, an anti-consumerist who forages necessities from what others throw away.
The Jordan Basin
Six years ago, an ecologically rich wedge of ocean in the northern Gulf of Maine became Canada’s first marine biodiversity showcase. Has it lived up to its promise? Read more
Discover videos, interactive features and photo essays mapping the ideas, science and communities behind our biodiversity issue.
Along the back roads of eastern Ontario,
among the sleepy towns, antique shops and touristy
locks that squeeze the Rideau River south of Ottawa,
“Back Off Government” signs pepper a mixed countryside
of cattle farms and small woodlands. Landowner pride runs
strong here, although many traditional farms have given way
to properties bought up by transplanted urbanites escaping
the city and relishing the natural scenery.
|Read tree planting success stories from Ontario communities.|
The morning air is muggy as I approach the crossroads
hamlet of Toledo, which sits halfway between two wetlands
and is the focal point for the Bellamy to Irish Lake
Connectivity Project, a tree-planting and conservation strategy.
Just south of the village intersection, I park and walk up
to an old stone schoolhouse that’s a regular meeting place for
Garnet Baker and Dwayne Struthers, two lifelong Toledo
residents who initiated the project. “By the time we’re
finished, there won’t be any area around the waterways
between these two wetlands that’s not covered,” says Baker,
who learned how to swim in the creek that slices through his
old farm and connects the two lakes.
|In order for it to work, planners are banking on sophisticated computer models to help them plant strategically to connect isolated patches of forest.
Both retired after careers in the region — Baker was an
elementary school principal, and Struthers owned a furniture
store across the road from where we’re chatting — they
now volunteer much of their free time to the Leeds County
Stewardship Council, a community organization that works
to preserve the natural landscape. So far, they’ve helped
plant more than 155,000 trees throughout the project area’s
roughly 3,000 square kilometres, a swath that includes the
properties of more than 40 farmers and other landowners
who initially did not have to pay but now cover part of the
cost of planting trees on their land.
On a sawdust-covered table, we unfurl satellite maps to
view the project’s progress, and I ask the men how they
convinced landowners that it was worth their effort and
money. “The first time, we invited people to the Legion,”
recalls Struthers. “I just said, ‘Look, folks, you know me. If
this wasn’t a good idea, we wouldn’t be doing it.’”
This project, and dozens of similar initiatives elsewhere in
the province, received a major boost after the Ministry of
Natural Resources (MNR) announced its commitment of
$79 million to plant 50 million trees by 2020, predominantly
in southern Ontario — a densely populated strip that hugs
the Great Lakes all the way to the Quebec border and is
bounded to the north by the Canadian Shield. Conceived in
2007, the tree-planting effort is the largest contribution of
any participating jurisdiction in North America to the United
Nations Environment Programme’s Billion Tree Campaign.
Since trees absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis,
the 50 Million Tree Program started primarily as a carbon-sequestration
scheme in Ontario’s battle against climate
change. It will also help restore southern Ontario’s degraded
ecosystems and provide corridors for wildlife. But that clear
sense of purpose is one of the few straightforward things
about the project. The effort requires nothing less than the
reconstruction of a tree-planting infrastructure that was all
but lost in the mid-1990s due to government cutbacks.
And, in order for it to work, planners are banking on sophisticated
computer models to help them plant strategically
to connect isolated patches of forest. What’s more, rural
residents must be convinced to get on board in a region that’s
about 90 percent privately owned.
Although Baker has been volunteering for the stewardship
council for 15 years — and, by extension, working with the
MNR — even he remains leery of government. “They tell
you one thing and then do another,” he says. “Landowners
have been trained over the years,” he adds. “If government
says to do something, they’re not going to do it.”
Anti-government sentiment is rife throughout rural
Ontario. In Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington —
the riding just west of Leeds-Grenville, which contains
Toledo — Conservative MPP Randy Hillier, one of the
founding members of the fiercely libertarian Ontario
Landowners Association (OLA), was elected, in part, for his
strong stance against government interference on private
lands. The OLA argues that rural Ontario is under “systematic
attack by government bureaucracy and false environmentalism.”
Under this kind of scrutiny, eco-initiatives
can face stiff resistance.
From its main office in Peterborough, a 90-minute drive
northeast of Toronto, the MNR relies on local stewardship
councils and conservation authorities to counter that resistance.
The arrangement makes logistical sense, since these
agencies are intimately aware of their regions’ landscapes, but
perhaps more important, it also builds trust. Stewardship
councils function primarily through the leadership of
volunteers such as Baker and Struthers, but regional
coordinators are also employed by the MNR to act as conduits
for government-based information and resources.
It’s a relatively hands-off method that allows the government
to promote responsible land care in rural communities.
In the drawn-out cold of mid-winter, Gary Nielsen, coordinator
of the MNR’s climate-change program in southern
Ontario, is taking that message to an audience of farmers and
landowners at a woodlot conference in Kemptville, about
60 kilometres south of Ottawa. As a former stewardship
coordinator whose territory included the Toledo area, Nielsen
helped conceive of the Bellamy to Irish Lake project with
Baker and Struthers. But here, he’s representing the big, bad
government to a skeptical crowd.
The gym at the University of Guelph Kemptville Campus
is filled to capacity, and portable chairs squawk on the concrete
floor. “Climate change is likely the biggest challenge
humanity has ever faced,” flashes a PowerPoint slide, which
features graphs that depict global carbon emissions and average
temperatures increasing exponentially. While recognizing
that it is only one small cog in a larger strategy that involves
reducing fossil-fuel use and promoting renewable energy,
Nielsen makes sure to stress that new provincial funding will
translate into drastically reduced costs for planting trees.
Continued on Page 2 »
Related content and resources:
View a gallery of Eamon Mac Mahon’s photos of Canada’s forests and read a
interview with the photographer.
50 Million Trees
Get involved in your community with Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program
. Donate or organize your own plant, because every tree counts.
Return to the Wild
Explore and learn more about the diversity of Canada’s wildlife in the Return to the Wild
|Comments on this article||View all comments (13) | Leave a comment|
Teachers and environmental outreach coordinators can run their own Citizen Science project using free online tools at WildlifeSightings.net
Citizen scientist can submit wildlife and plant sightings into community database at 'Wildlife & Plant Sightings' www.junponline.com
Sightings data are organized into basic reports and easily searchable.
Amateur to professional can contrinute their citizen science here.
This story requires the eyes of an ornithologist on the water counting birds. Birds as indicators tell us about the world below. Having just returned from the Jordan Basin region I can attest to the rich Biodiversity that I saw as I counted birds. Dovekie, N. Fulmar, Greater Shearwater..... This Bioregion is important to both the United States and Canada. It behooves all of us to work together diligently to understand this region of the Ocean. Remember also that it is our RIVER Ecosystems connected to the Gulf of Maine that ultimately determine the biodiversity of the GOM.
Pollution in the GOM is a death sentence. Dioxins and mercury must be removed from the Penobscot River and all streams and culverts must be reconnected to the SEA-RUN FISH.. These are the Keystone Species of the GOM and determine the Health of both the United States and Canadian people.
Good article, but most professional foresters will recongnize that most of the photos do not depict an old growth forests, but a variety of second growth or fire-origin sites.
With respect to the statistics Candace quotes from the Int'l Union for Conservation of Nature Red List Is it 12% of all birds or 12% of all species of birds. Quite a different number I would think.
The excellent article by Fraser Los entitled “50 million trees” is welcome. While the article focuses on Ontario Government plans to reforest Southern Ontario the author also mentions efforts being undertaken in Northern Ontario. To expand on these remarks…
The Forest Health and Silvicultural Section of the Ministry of Natural Resources advises “in 2008, approximately 92 million trees were planted in Ontario, with 49.8 million of these in the Northwest Region”. Survival rates for Pine Spruce are typically 80 to 85% in the Thunder Bay area and are affected by lack of rain, higher temperatures and frost. Tree plant numbers for 2009 will be available in March 2011.
As one flies or takes a survol by Google over the vast expanse of Northern Ontario, one can’t help but wonder about the sustainability of the Boreal Forest. For example, in some areas notably near the Ogoki reservoir, there are any number of 10,000 hectare clearcuts. Huge areas are unplanted and without sufficient seed trees left standing for natural regeneration. Considerable piles of over cut and uncollected wood lie north of Armstrong. As forest tenure is being renogiated, often with the same companies that have left this mess, Northerners can’t help but wonder if there will be any improvement?
Also, the deplorable conditions experienced by many tree planters, mosty Canadian students, needs examining. Migrant workers picking crops in Southern Ontario have much better accommodation, food and standards than experienced by northern tree planters who are often forced to work in cold rain and snow while sleeping in tents. Certainly miracle planters might attain 5,000 trees under ideal conditions, however most struggle to plant 1,000 or 2,000 trees to meet their camp costs, clothing, travel and to have meagre savings for education.
A article on the future of the Boreal Forest and sustainable forestry in Northern Ontario would be welcome.
Evolution happens with or without our consent or assistance. Yet it's hard to see the good in some of the growing numbers of invasive plant species. Good article, thanks.
Informative and well-written article. Nice to see attention being paid to this important, though sadly neglected, issue in Manitoba.
Here is a slideshow from this year's Guelph Rotary Forest tree planting at wich about 1,000 people helped plant trees:
We should cherish and protect the old-growth rain forests and what's left around us.