London

There's going to be less 'forest' in the Forest City area, thanks to provincial cuts

The region's top tree planter says slashing the 50 million tree program will hinder local reforestation efforts in the London area and cause financial turbulence for some private nurseries.

London and surrounding area will see 20,000 less trees planted every year

John Enright is a forester with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. Much of his work involves helping farmers restore unproductive fields to natural habitat. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

London likes to brand itself as the Forest City, but if you ask John Enright, there isn't as much forest as we'd like within the city, or the area around it. 

"We should be closer to probably 25 per cent forest cover," he said. "We probably have about 12 per cent forest cover across the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority watershed." 

Enright is a forester with the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. It's his job to make sure the natural areas that rim our waterways, farms, towns and cities stay lush and teeming with life.

To do it, he and his team plant some 40,000 to 50,000 trees each year, but now that the provincial government has axed the $4.7 million 50 Million Tree Program, his job just got a whole lot more challenging. 

Tree planting no longer cheap

The majority of the funding from the 50 Million Tree Program went to conservation groups, stewardship groups and First Nations, who worked with landowners to get trees planted. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"Tree planting is no longer cheap," Enright said. "It's going to be a significant impact on our private land reforestation effort."

Enright said now that the provincial program is gone, it will reduce the number of trees he and his team plant each year by anywhere from a quarter to one half. 

Before it was eliminated, the 50 Million Tree Program existed as a cost sharing program to help farmers and rural land owners return unproductive farmland back to their natural state, which can run upwards of $5,000 per hectare, or $2,000 an acre. 

Under the program, the government would assume up to 75 per cent of the cost of planting native trees on a plot of land of at least one hectare, or 2.5 acres. The land owner would pay other 25 per cent, giving farmers and land owners an incentive to restore unproductive fields to a more naturalized state on a larger scale. 

"Those are the ones that ecologically have the most importance," Enright said. "The larger plantings have significant impact on providing more wildlife habitat, improving air quality, all of the other benefits that go with tree planting."

That includes erosion control in flood-prone areas, keeping waterways cool in the wilting summer heat and even keeping the countryside well stocked with fish and game. 

Trees 'like an insurance policy'

Since 2008 more than 27 million trees have been planted across Ontario through the 50 Million Tree Program. (Shutterstock)

The Progressive Conservative government argues the move would save the province $4.7 million a year as it looks to pare down Ontario's $343 billion debt. 

However Enright said the savings are short-sighted and don't take into account the larger environmental costs, which are far greater than can be measured on a ledger sheet. 

"Environmentally yes, for sure," he said. "With climate change, I think trees are sort of like an insurance policy. They provide a mitigating effect or moderating effect on our climate."

"If we had more tree cover, we'd see less extremes than we see today." 

Forests of the future

Some 40,000 seedlings made up of 10 native species such as Black Cherry and Hackberry sit in a climate-controlled room waiting to be planted to return private land to a more naturalized state. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

A lot of people like to say there's no way to tell what the future holds, but Enright can see the future any day he likes, in fact, he even keeps it under lock and key. 

With the flick of a wrist, he twists the deadbolt open to reveal a climate-controlled room that keeps some 40,000 seedlings, some 10 different native species, in a dormant state.

All of them are carefully wrapped in paper, and labelled with the names of places only locals would recognize and Enright said the 50 Million Tree Program paid for one in three of these trees. 

"I hope next year it's this full," he said. "It might also be less, by about a third." 

After he's done looking at the future, Enright turns off the lights and closes the door, locking the deadbolt behind him and only when that room is safely out earshot does he offer a prediction.

"Trees will get planted, but not nearly the quantity we need."

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

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