Ottawa

Millions of saplings could be destroyed after planting program axed

They're in the business of growing trees. But this summer, a nursery near Kemptville, Ont., says it has no choice but to destroy as many as three million saplings after the Ontario government cut a tree-planting program.

'If we don't have a potential client to buy those trees, then I can't afford to keep putting money into it'

Ferguson Tree Nursery is based in Kemptville, Ont., about 60 kilometres south of downtown Ottawa. (Supplied by Ferguson Tree Nursery)

One of the main nurseries for a tree planting program that's being scrapped by the province said it will likely have to destroy about three million trees.

Ed Patchell, CEO of Ferguson Tree Nursery in Kemptville, Ont., about 60 kilometres south of downtown Ottawa, said he can't afford to pay for staff, supplies and operating expenses to run the nursery and maintain all the trees that are in various stages of growth.

It's not something that we want to do, it's something that we're going to be forced to do because we can't financially carry it.- Ed Patchell, Ferguson Tree Nursery

"If we don't have a potential client to buy those trees, then I can't afford to keep putting money into it," Patchell said.

"It's cheaper to destroy them at a young age than it is at the ship age, plus I don't have to keep carrying the costs. It's not something that we want to do, it's something that we're going to be forced to do because we can't financially carry it."

Last month the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry announced it would cancel the 50 Million Tree Program, which has seen the planting of more than 27 million trees across Ontario since 2008.

Ferguson Tree Nursery was one of the main nurseries that grew seedlings for the program, which saved landowners up to 90 per cent of the costs of large-scale tree planting.

Financial strain

Patchell said the province allowed for this spring's tree plant to go ahead, but it won't continue next year.

His nursery has been growing the trees in fields and greenhouses in Kemptville through a contract with Forests Ontario, which managed the program and received the provincial funding for it.

The trees then went to planters, conservation authorities, private contractors and stewardship groups. They were planted on private lands to help re-establish forest cover and reclaim sites that weren't ideal for agriculture throughout the province — primarily in southern Ontario — Patchell said.

Not all the trees are ready for shipping right now, with some of them only a year old, which is a financial challenge for the nursery.

"It can take up to four years before a tree is at a size that it's actually suitable to ship, so the challenge is, how do we pay to keep growing these things if we don't have clients?" Patchell said.

Number still in question

Patchell said the cancellation of the program will have an impact on the environment, noting it may lead to soil erosion and reduction of forest cover, air quality, water quality and wildlife habitat.

He doesn't plan on destroying the trees immediately, but said he can't carry them all summer. Patchell plans to decide over the next month exactly how many trees need to be destroyed.

"There are some people that are showing some interest in supporting the program, so we'll have to see what happens," Patchell said.

"I've had lots of people saying, 'Can I buy 100 trees here or 100 trees there?"'

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