Nut short­age has squir­rels scram­bling

The Delhi News-Record - - COMMUNITY LISTINGS - MONTE SONNEBERG

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.”

HANDOUT/ POSTMEDIA NETWORK

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.

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