Nut shortage has squirrels scrambling
Squirrels in southern Ontario are preparing early for winter.
They’ve noticed that tree-seed production is significantly below average and are socking away food while it remains available.
That’s the conclusion of tree experts associated with Forests Ontario.
“It’s a very low crop,” Greg Greer, Forests Ontario’s field adviser in this part of the province, said Friday.
“You can take it for what it’s worth, but the squirrels have been pretty active early this year. They seem to know there’s a shortage out there. They normally don’t get busy until September- October. That’s a really good indicator that there’s a real shortage. They seem to know they’re looking at a tough winter.”
Another behavioural change involves squirrels chewing off entire branches filled with immature nuts. Instead of waiting for forage to fall to the ground, squirrels are grabbing what they can before other squirrels beat them to it.
Arborists don’t know why this year’s seed count is low. Greer said it could be a combination of factors such as a dry spell during the pollination phase, a decline in pollinators that encourage tree reproduction, or a combination of these and other factors.
This will have implications for local tree nurseries three years down the road. Greer says there could be noticeable shortages of common tree varieties in southern Ontario in 2021.
This might also have implications for Forests Ontario’s 50 Million Trees Program, which is now into its 10th year.
In 2008, Forests Ontario committed to planting 50 million trees in southern Ontario by 2025.
The program will carry on as usual in 2019 and 2020. However, in 2021 participants may have to do without common tree varieties impacted by this summer’s shortfall.
Forests Ontario reminded property owners this week that now is the time to prepare if they wish to take part in the 2019 program.
Successful applicants with 2.5 acres or more of vacant land are eligible for 75 percent to 90 percent program funding. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests is one of the funding partners.
Applicants can expect a site visit from a Forests Ontario field advisor this fall in time for next spring’s planting.
Property owners will be questioned on their commitment to the program’s objectives, which include climate and environmental benefits as well as the promotion of wildlife habitat.
The smallest planting available is 1,500 trees. This is not a reforestation program for property owners who have lost large sections of woodlot to the emerald ash borer or gypsy moth caterpillars.
“We offer both deciduous and coniferous trees,” says program spokesperson Azra Fazal. “They’re all native and locally sourced. We work with planting partners in your area.”
Squirrels in Norfolk County and elsewhere in southern Ontario could be more desperate for food than usual this winter thanks to unusually low tree seed production this summer.