It’s time for a national tree planting strategy: Forest Recovery Canada
By Rob Keen
March 21, 2018 - Spring is a time for renewal and growth. In Canada, this means tree planting.
By Rob Keen
As Canadians, we understand the importance of our trees and forests, and recognize the benefits they provide. We inherently understand that planting trees is a good thing, and that by increasing forest cover, we are doing the environment, our economy, and ourselves a favour. What’s missing from this narrative, at least on the national stage, are the proper incentives and programs to help make it happen.
Last month, the federal government created an opportunity to correct this situation. As part of the 2018 budget, the government pledged over $1 billion towards conservation projects, including those that help to reduce our carbon footprint and help our country meet its international commitment to fight climate change.
Enter the concept of a national tree planting strategy.
A nationally-coordinated tree planting initiative is exactly what the federal government should be looking for in terms of a carbon friendly, conservation program. Simply put, planting trees is one of the easiest ways to take tackle climate change. Trees take carbon out of the atmosphere (in the form of carbon dioxide) and use it to grow, storing it in their roots, trunks and branches. In fact, over 50 per cent of a tree is composed of carbon. The by-product of this process is oxygen, something else we value tremendously.
Planting 50 million trees will sequester the equivalent of 6.6 megatonnes of CO2. This is only a portion of what can be achieved with cross-country coordination. Over the past decade, Forests Ontario has planted over 28 million trees in Ontario alone, with ambitions of planting over 50 million by 2025. A national effort would increase these numbers significantly – enough for Canada to be viewed as a leader in terms of our country’s commitment under the Paris Accord. Recent estimates indicate we’ll be 66 megatonnes below our goals by 2030.
The benefits of trees don’t stop with the environment, nor at the forest’s edge. As trees are converted into products – such as lumber used in home construction or wood used in furniture production – the majority of tree-stored-carbon is retained by the wood to be further locked-up for many more decades.
Time spent in nature has been increasingly linked to a variety of health benefits. These include lower stress levels, reduced asthma rates, decreased levels of obesity, fewer instances of cardiovascular disease and a reduction in attention deficit disorder. A national tree planting program, enhancing forest cover on our fragmented landscapes, would make us healthier while lowering our carbon footprint.
The strategic planting of trees can lower temperatures in urban neighbourhoods by up to eight degrees, reducing the need for air conditioning on hot summer days. That’s good for climate change and our wallets.
At Forest Recovery Canada, we work with planting organizations, municipalities, First Nations, ENGOs andcorporate sponsors across Canada to plant trees where they are most needed, and have the expertise and infrastructure required to make a national tree planting campaign happen. All that’s needed is government support.
Private landowners own a significant portion of lands ideally suited for trees. Recent studies illustrate that reducing landowners tree planting costs, whether they are planting a single tree in their yard or reclaiming hundreds of hectares of fallow land, is critical to incentivizing landowners to plant and to maximize our tree planting potential – something that could be easily achieved under the government’s recent funding commitment.
The time to plant trees is now. The sooner trees are in the ground, the sooner they can start absorbing carbon. March 21st is the United Nation’s International Day of Forests, and this year’s theme is Forests and Sustainable Cities. Planting trees, and ensuring sustainable forest management, is how we should celebrate this year.
Rob Keen, is a Registered Professional Forester and CEO of Forest Recovery Canada, a tree planting and forest restoration organization. Forest Recovery Canada is a division of Forests Ontario.