By Jonathan Martin
In the wake of recent government cuts, hope for Ontario’s trees could lie in the private sector.
Tree nursery representatives and foresters said millions of trees would be destroyed after the provincial government scrapped funding for the 50 Million Tree Program. Now, industry members are putting out a call for others to fill the space.
The program, which the province discontinued April 25, aimed to plant 50 million trees by 2025.
Nursery owners involved in the program say they relied on its funding to grow the trees they’ve already planted. Ferguson Tree Nursery, located just outside Kemptville, is one of Ontario’s largest growers.
“Monday, the Ferguson nursery predicted they’d have to destroy around 3 million trees,” Sandy MacDonald, professor of horticulture at St. Clair College, told Farms.com. “The Ontario government bought the trees with money from the (50 Million Tree) program as well, which made up around 40 per cent of (Ferguson’s) revenue.”
Forests Ontario headed the program, which cost around $4.7 million per year, according to a Canadian Press report through Global said. The government ended the program to reduce the provincial deficit, the report said.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government won the premiership on a platform of “greater fiscal prudence” in 2018, which was reflected in the smaller-than-expected deficit in Ontario’s April budget.
“Tree planting is a very long-term thing,” MacDonald told Farms.com. “The government’s focus tends not to be so long-term. I think the best solution would be for the private sector to come in and pick up the slack.”
MacDonald may have gotten his wish.
Last night, Ed Patchell, Ferguson Tree Nursory’s CEO, told the Ottawa Citizen that he’s been seeing a “flurry of interest” since news broke about his trees’ potential destruction.
“I think there will be some opportunity to save some, if not all of” the trees, he said in the interview Monday evening. “Even the government is showing signs of interest in coming up with a solution for the stock as well.”
At Monday’s question period, John Yakabuski, the province’s natural resources and forestry minister, reiterated that this year’s seedlings will be planted as scheduled.
“We’ve been working with Forests Ontario to ensure that the tree planting that is designed and scheduled for this year will go on as planned,” he said. “For any contract that was in place, those trees will be planted this year.”
The Ferguson Tree Nursery’s crop runs on a three-year cycle, so a year’s funding would likely only get this year’s trees a third of the way to market.
MacDonald told Farms.com that saving the current crop is just the first step, anyways.
“Around 40 per cent forest cover is needed to maintain sustainability,” he said. “The average in Ontario is in the mid-20s. Some places hit as low as 5 per cent.”