Engaged in a greening blitz of its own, Trees for Woolwich isn’t directly affected by the province’s cut to its tree-planting program, but sees the move as counterproductive nonetheless.
Following the presentation of its first budget in April, the Progressive Conservative government told Forests Ontario it was scrapping the 50 Million Tree Program. The previous administration had allocated $4.7 million annually in a bid to plant 50 million trees across the province.
The provincially sponsored program had planted 27 million trees since 2008, with an overall goal of 50 million by 2025. Under the program, the government would fund 75 per cent of the cost of planting trees on a private landowner’s property. The landowner would pay the remaining 25 per cent, giving them the incentive to make use out of unproductive land.
While the removal of this program would not immediately affect Trees for Woolwich, Rinne said, it has an impact on the big picture.
“I think it’s extremely short-sighted,” Inga Rinne, a member of Trees for Woolwich, said of the decision. “It doesn’t impact our organization directly because we haven’t been receiving any provincial monies.
“The reality is, a lot of the tree planting is really designed for the greater good, in the sense that the advantages to the individual are much smaller than the advantages to the community as a whole,” said Rinne, noting that the provincial government has funded tree-planting programs for more than a century.
“Because you’re looking to control flooding, you’re looking to control erosion, and you’re looking at carbon capture. Inevitably, there will be fewer trees planted.”
Provincial officials argued that the program was an example of frivolous spending by the previous Liberal government. Justine Lewkowicz, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, said that the 50 Million Trees Program duplicates the work of the forestry industry, which plants 68 million trees annually without the use of taxpayers’ money.
“Our government is committed to balancing the budget in a responsible manner to protect what matters most – healthcare, education, and other critical public services such as emergency preparedness,” said Lewkowicz in an email to the Observer.
“In order to do this, we have to maximize value for the taxpayer dollar. The 50 Million Tree Program has only planted 27,000,000 trees since 2007, an average of 2,500,000 trees per year. This is well short of their initial goal of 50,000,000 trees by 2020.”
She pointed out there are other forestry management supports for private landowners, including the Managed Forest Tax Incentive program and the Conservation Land Tax Incentive program.
While the provincial program has been felled, work continues apace in the township. For those looking to make a local impact in response to global climate change protests, Trees for Woolwich is continuing with scheduled greening events, including one May 4 at Elmira’s Bolender Park beginning at 11 a.m.
The goal of Trees for Woolwich through these initiatives is to increase the canopy cover in Elmira from 16.4 per cent up to 30 per cent. This can be difficult locally due to the presence of the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has killed millions of ash trees in southwestern Ontario.
Rinne added that in light of these provincial cuts, Trees for Woolwich has seen donations from the public for their work. An example of such a donor is Dorothy and Richard MacBride of Waterloo, who contributed $231 to the organization along with the following letter:
“It’s income tax filing time. Receiving a tax credit or carbon tax rebate doesn’t feel right to us as seniors who are responsible for part of the environmental mess and the dangers and destruction caused by climate change. While realizing we need to do more, we will, on behalf of future generations, donate this $231 rebate to a non-profit organization that is fighting climate change.”