Redefining Conservation is the
Ontario Environmental Commissioner's
annual report for 2009/ 2010. The report is full of good advice on
the usual themes, including the chronic shortage of resources for
environmental protection, the many ways that our land use planning
fails to protect habitat and species, and the need for much greater
commitment to energy conservation. The ECO's persistent
needling has provoked the Ministry of the environment to take some
much-needed action, such as making a list of old, poorly regulated
landfill sites (at least now they have a list) and starting to
think about climate change in its standards for stormwater
management (they don't have a list of stormwater systems,
or an assessment of how they will cope with climate change). But
the list of other things the MOE should be doing just continues to
One useful feature of this year's report (see page 41)
is a look back at the consequences of past attacks on
"government waste and duplication". One of the
many government programs cut in the 1980s and 1990s was a program
to support tree planting in Ontario, including specialized public
nurseries that grew local stock. Privatize them! was the demand,
and privatized they were; only one provincial tree seed bank was
spared. Did it matter? According to the Commissioner, Ontario
desperately needs to plant huge numbers of appropriate native
trees, to fight climate change, to protect watersheds, and to
protect biodiversity. We were very good at this for a hundred
years; now great effort produces comparatively feeble results.
Prior to the 1980s, an average of 20 to 30 million trees per
year were planted in Ontario through afforestation programs. Today,
on average, three million trees are planted annually. MNR got
lots of ink in 2007 for promising 50 million trees by 2020, but it
actually means only a slight uptick to 3.8 million trees a year.
It's a drop in the bucket compared to what we need, and
compared to what we used to do before cutting "government
waste". Volunteer tree planting is important, but an order
of magnitude too small. Carbon credits might help, if they become
available for forestry, but that would be just another piece of
poorly coordinated government policy. Even when volunteers want to
plant trees, they often cannot get native seedlings,
For over 100 years, the provincial government was heavily
involved in reforestation and afforestation initiatives; its
withdrawal ... has had a significant impact on the landscape. When
MNR guided afforestation initiatives in the province, more trees
were planted, plantations were larger and native seedlings were
readily available and affordable through provincial nurseries.
Fewer trees are now planted, plantations are smaller and the
availability of native seedling stock is inconsistent....
To reach 30% tree cover, the recommended target, would take a
billion more living (native) trees. At only 3.8 million trees
planted a year, we're not likely to ever get there.
Sometimes, cutting "wasteful" government programs
really will matter in the long run; this was one of them.
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Ontario's Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change continues to roll out its Climate Change Action Plan with its proposed GHG guide for projects that are subject to the province's Environmental Assessment Act.
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