January 26, 2011

Let's plant trees faster than we chop them down

As published in The Erin Advocate

Some of my best friends are of the leafy, green persuasion. You know the type: perennial sun worshippers, on the tall side, firmly attached to the earth. I've never hugged one, but they do make for excellent company.

Until recently in our history, trees were seen mainly as obstacles to agriculture and as raw material for paper and lumber. Now, we sense more of a common cause among carbon based entities. When God told the first humans to "subdue" the earth (Genesis 1:28), that did not mean we should obliterate the very life forms She created to provide us with oxygen.

Greenery, unlike oil, is relatively easy to replenish. Do you see the newsprint you are holding as a product of dead trees, or as a renewable resource? We are lucky, too, to live in an area that has not been generally paved over.

"Erin is an emerald jewel in the heart of Ontario," said Bill Dinwoody, of the Recreation and Culture Committee, at a presentation to Town Council last month on trails and trees.

There is an effort to have the Town of Erin get more involved in tree planting. For the Town, the volume of trees is not the main issue. It is a matter of strategic planting on public land, and encouragement of planting on private land, to make the Town more attractive.

Of course there are other long-term benefits, like more shade, less erosion, better wildlife habitat, natural snow fencing and a place to hang your rope swing. Tree planting brings people together and erects living monuments to our shared values.

"The Town needs to take a leadership role," said trails enthusiast Steve Revell, who urged Council to consider a town-wide tree plan.

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has a broader mandate, since the sheer volume of trees is an important factor in the global effort to slow the rate of climate change.

"CVC is concerned that the potential impacts of climate change may adversely affect the watershed and has a number of initiatives in its strategic plan to both learn more about the potential impacts of climate change and to develop approaches to mitigate them," said a CVC report, done by Woodrising Consulting and ArborVitae Environmental Services.

Using scientific models, they estimated that the 16,844 hectares of forest in the Credit Valley watershed holds about 6.52 million tonnes of carbon, 48 percent in living biomass, 13 percent in dead wood and forest litter and 39 percent in the soil. CVC owns about eight percent of the forest lands.

"CVC recognizes that it can also play a role in efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and to enhance the sequestration, or long-term removal, of GHG from the atmosphere. Forests and wetlands have the ability to act as carbon sinks, absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, the most widely known and ubiquitous GHG."

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are generally not causing forests to grow faster and increase their rates of carbon sequestration. All the more reason to reduce GHG emissions and plant as many trees as possible.

Since 1960, CVC, the Ministry of Natural Resources and partners such as the Boy Scouts, have planted 2,534 hectares of trees in our watershed, which are moving into a rapid growth phase. CVC plans to plant 57 hectares of trees annually until 2014, and 91 hectares annually from 2015 to 2030.

The portion of the sequestration caused by future plantings may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in the carbon market, an international mechanism intended to drive down industrial emissions through financial incentives.

New tree planting in the watershed is expected to sequester 5,459 tonnes of carbon per year. Unfortunately, about 7,500 tonnes is lost every year as 25-50 hectares of forest is chopped down to make way for new homes, businesses and roads. It is not happening in Erin, but it is not all that far away.

A recent CVC Fact Sheet describes the process: "Development removes all of the live biomass (organisms) and dead wood, causing the stored carbon to be emitted. Much of the carbon in the soil is emitted as well. Clearly, reducing forest loss is just as important as planting new trees."