Looking back to the future

February 18, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Doug Skeates

One distinct advantage to aging is remembering past events. A visit to southern Quebec a few years back is one fond memory, sitting on a cottage lawn where I had spent many a summer in my younger days. In particular it was enjoying the shade of trees which Dad, my brother and I had planted while on vacation. Enjoying the pleasure of experiencing the fruits of labours a half century earlier caused one to wonder what future generations would enjoy from efforts made today. 

A long career in forestry has provided many pleasures. Years of reforestation in Geraldton in northern Ontario contributed to a sense of satisfaction. Natural yellow birch projects in North Bay and pruning of White Pine south of Mattawa have provided pleasure while also providing benefit to the province’s economy over many years ahead. Looking at developing forests outside the office window in rural Ontario do likewise. Few are aware of the 32,000 acres of Simcoe County Forest as folk drive through plantations of Midhurst Forest north of Barrie or Orr Lake Forest on either side of the highway as they travel north to Sudbury. 

More outstanding is the 300,000 acres of county forests in southern Ontario which are now largely productive due to extensive replanting of trees on deserts across the Oak Ridges Moraine half a century ago. Rehabilitation of the region has enhanced productivity of a huge cross-section of Ontario, a drop in the bucket compared to the extent of reforestation throughout the province. A remarkable story was the tribute to E.J. Zavitz with the initiation of nine forest nurseries basic to producing over 35 million seedlings annually for planting across the province (Two Billion Trees and Counting, John Bacher 2011). 

Memory includes the many years of F.R.I. (Forest Resources Inventory) which the province undertook over a 10-year period in the mid 1900s, providing assurance of raw materials for sustainability of the forest industry. Similarly, a province-wide review of the status of forests in 1947 (Report of the Royal Commission on Forests, Major General Kennedy) was undertaken. For me the first feature of the report was the contribution of forests to the conservation of water with root systems conducting precipitation to aquifers, the year-round basis for wetlands, streams and lakes. 

Such extensive evaluations are prime examples for establishment of a new project. It is patently obvious that the major problem facing mankind today is global warming. Carbon emissions in the atmosphere is a prime factor in blocking the escape of heat from the earth’s surface. A major source of solution is finding ways to reducing the extent of carbon pollution. Forests contribute to reducing the problem through photosynthesis, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and combining it with water from the ground through production of foliage, wood and rooting systems, i.e. storing the absorbed carbon. 

The prime minister pledged before the last election to plant two billion trees, a provincial jurisdiction. The first order of achieving this goal in Ontario is to evaluate the land base, watershed by watershed, assessing the province’s potential contribution to Canada’s goal. Much of the province’s forest land is publicly owned, i.e. crown land. Communities have indicated considerable interest in partnering efforts to improve productivity. When the province offered funding for development of community forests, 22 submitted proposals for participating in the program of which the administration accepted four. Unfortunately, the provincial government retained ownership of public lands limiting municipal decision overlooking the real basis for successful implementation of them. 

Currently we live in a ‘now’ society. A recent book, The Good Ancestor (Roman Krznaric, 2020) describes “short-termism”, a way of thinking which must be changed. We are recipients of what our ancestors contributed to our present well-being. Our ancestors have provided works of art, music, literature, etc. which we still enjoy. Long term thinking includes palaces and cathedrals. Rehabilitative ecological such as establishment of new forests were developed in the past century. Establishment of new forests are helping to tackle the global warming problem, a change in thinking to a longer-term basis. We are tomorrow’s ancestors as we manage the land base to benefit more than those living ‘now’ as well as those of the next seven generations. 


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