Help us save tree seed plant

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - Barb Boy­sen, Gen­eral Man­ager Melissa Spear­ing, Seed Pro­gram Co­or­di­na­tor For­est Gene Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, Kemptville

The Edi­tor, Tree seeds are of course crit­i­cal to fu­ture forests. Man­age­ment of high qual­ity seed of known ori­gin is cru­cial if our fu­ture forests are to with­stand the im­pacts of cli­mate change. De­spite this, the Min­istry of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Forestry (MNRF) has de­cided to close the On­tario Tree Seed Plant (OTSP) in less than a year.

Lo­cated in An­gus (west of Barrie) since 1923, it is a unique fa­cil­ity that is home to ex­pert pro­cess­ing and stor­age of bil­lions of tree seed. The OTSP is the seed bank for fu­ture forests in south­ern and north­ern On­tario, man­aged by 6 ex­pert staff with an an­nual bud­get less than $2 mil­lion. The shut­down de­ci­sion came as a sur­prise – no anal­y­sis of other de­liv­ery or cost cut­ting op­tions, and no con­sul­ta­tion with clients, stake­hold­ers and the com­mu­nity.

His­tor­i­cally, MNR Seed Pro­gram staff man­aged seed for gov­ern­ment pro­grams that an­nu­ally planted over 100 mil­lion trees on Crown Land in North­ern On­tario, and up to 20 mil­lion on pri­vate land in South­ern On­tario. Those trees be­came the forests that sur­round us today.

In the mid ‘90s, cut­backs saw the MNR re­for­esta­tion pro­gram dis­man­tled. Tree nurs­eries, es­tab­lished by pi­o­neer­ing foresters Drury and Zavitz in the 1920s, were closed and sold, and plans made to pri­va­tize the Seed Plant. The For­est Gene Con­ser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (FGCA), work­ing with stake­hold­ers, helped MNR man­age­ment un­der­stand that tree seed ex­per­tise was an ir­re­place­able eco­log­i­cal and so­cial ben­e­fit. Even pri­vate nurs­eries ad­vo­cated for keep­ing the Seed Plant in pub­lic hands.

In 1999, MNR lead­er­ship re­con­sid­ered, and rec­og­nized the value of the OTSP’s crit­i­cally im­por­tant role in pro­vid­ing ge­net­i­cally adapted na­tive seeds for plant­ing pro­grams. Tree nurs­eries were able to in­crease the prop­a­ga­tion of lo­cally adapted trees for our ci­ties and coun­try­side. OTSP seed was the foun­da­tion for the 50 Mil­lion Tree Pro­gram in 2007, with­out it the pro­gram could not have been built.

The OTSP clo­sure is a game changer – with the po­ten­tial to be a game en­der. The FGCA and For­est On­tario’s grower and plant­ing part­ners are very con­cerned. Where will the mil­lions of stored seeds go? Where will next year’s seed crops be pro­cessed? Who will mon­i­tor seed qual­ity and track seed source? Who will in­vest in the ex­per­tise needed to estab­lish and main­tain a long-term seed bank -- a crit­i­cal weapon to fight the im­pacts of cli­mate change?

Dianne Saxe, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Com­mis­sioner re­cently re­ported that On­tario’s forests are un­der in­creas­ing stress from cli­mate change. Cli­mate mod­els show that south­ern On­tario’s trees, adapted to a warmer cli­mate, will be the best source of seed for North­ern On­tario be­fore the 22nd cen­tury. But many south­ern forests have been lost to agri­cul­ture and de­vel­op­ment. The re­main­der face in­tro­duced ex­otic plants, in­sects and dis­eases that chal­lenge na­tive trees from re­gen­er­at­ing. Given these se­ri­ous threats, seed man­age­ment and bank­ing ca­pac­ity needs to be in­creased, not stopped.

Pre­mier Wynne has shown lead­er­ship on cli­mate change – a tremen­dously com­plex chal­lenge. And the FGCA knows the best way to man­age com­plex chal­lenges like for­est restora­tion is to make it easier for peo­ple to do the right thing.

But this short-sighted de­ci­sion by the Min­is­ter of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and Forestry, to aban­don seed man­age­ment and bank­ing, will make it very dif­fi­cult to en­sure the re­silience of On­tario’s for­est un­der cli­mate change.

There is no fu­ture with­out forests, and no forests with­out seed. The plan to close the OTSP must be re­con­sid­ered.

The FGCA in­vite you to ask ques­tions and get in­volved. Join this mis­sion to en­sure our Gov­ern­ment shows the lead­er­ship crit­i­cal to our fu­ture.

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