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Russell municipal councillor recognized for environmental good deeds

Green Leader reforests property and donates land for a park in Embrun
I met André Brisson in the bustling lobby of a hotel in Toronto’s Chinatown district. The Russell County Councillor joked with me about the notorious city traffic.  He’d come for the Royal Winter Fair, where his daughters were showing calves.
Brisson comes from a long line of dairy farmers. He’s the fifth generation of Brissons to carve out a living on the family farm in Embrun. It’s a small, rural community of about 8,000 residents. Even so, with Ottawa only a 30-minute drive away, it’s far from isolated. Embrun’s residents have noted the ever-encroaching suburbs, he tells me. As things around the rural community become less green, André began to think more about trees.
In 2013, a health issue caused André to sell his cows. His land sat idle.
“I wanted to give the land a second chance,” he tells me. “The former pasture land wasn’t suitable for crops, and I didn’t want it to go to weeds.” André was particularly keen on using his land to help the local environment.
In 2015, André’s first year as a municipal councillor for Russell Township, he heard about the Government of Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program (50MTP). He was already taking part in a tree planting initiative along the Castor River with students from École élémentaire publique De La Rivière Castor and Russell High School. The event was run by South Nation River Conservation, and it was through this organization that André was introduced to the 50MTP.
Administered by not-for-profit organization Forests Ontario, the 50MTP provides financial and technical assistance to landowners for large-scale tree planting.
“The 50MTP was a great fit for what I wanted to do,” André recounts. “I decided to go for it!”
Cheyene Brunet, a forestry technician with South Nation River Conservation Authority, worked closely with André to develop a site plan to reforest 2.5 acres of former pastures with a mix of conifers and hardwoods.
“We started planting in May of 2017,” explains Brunet. “We went with several species – White pine, White spruce, Sugar maple, Red and Silver maples, and Red Oak trees. About 2,000 trees in all.”
Brunet was impressed by André’s drive throughout the experience. “It was clear that André was really passionate about helping the environment and his local community.”
Brisson’s trees have had an excellent survival rate, which he attributes to the time he spent tending them. “Since I wasn’t farming anymore, I had a lot more time on my hands. I would take the weed trimmer out and get rid of the trees’ competition.”
Before the 50MTP planting, Brisson’s  land had been nearly void of trees for more than 160 years. “When the first Brisson in Embrun settled on the farm in 1856, the trees had already been cut,” he says. “Most of the land in Russell County is of good quality for agriculture. That’s why our forest cover is so low.”
Continuing with his environmental good deeds, Brisson donated nearly an acre of his land to his municipality so that a park could be built. He hopes this will be a step toward having more greenspace in his town.
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