Rooted in Partnership: Spotlight on Forests Ontario
The RVCA's tree planting program has many branches of support, but it's the sturdy trunk of Forests Ontario that holds it all together.
The provincial not-for-profit manages the 50 Million Tree Program, which provides two-thirds of RVCA's tree planting funding each year to help private landowners undertake largescale afforestation (the creation of new forests) for just pennies per tree.
Since 2008, Forests Ontario has helped RVCA plant 2.3 million trees covering 1,100 hectares (2,718 acres) of retired or fallow farm fields, rocky terrain and otherwise marginal land.
For the RVCA, the partnership offers extreme efficiency. With Forests Ontario taking care of "big picture" things like province-wide fundraising, lobbying, seed collecting and nursery and seedling co-ordination, RVCA staff can keep doing what they do best: working with landowners to get trees in the ground.
That wasn't always the case. In the early 2000s, when provincial funding for tree planting had been all but razed to the ground, RVCA staff had to quote and source every project individually – and hope the landowner would still be interested once they got a price.
Today, thanks to Forests Ontario, staff can skip right to the good part.
"We focus on how we're going to plant the trees, not whether or not we can," said Dan Cooper, the RVCA's Director of Conservation Lands and Stewardship. "When we're worrying about big picture stuff, we're not planting trees. And Forests Ontario fills that gap for us."
The feeling is mutual, according to Forests Ontario CEO Rob Keen.
"One of the biggest challenges for us is reaching out to landowners, so we depend on folks like those at the RVCA who are out there in the community," Keen said. He noted the RVCA has consistently been one of Forests Ontario's largest tree planting partners since 2008. "RVCA has years and years of experience doing this and it's absolutely key to our program's success."
RVCA has been building relationships in the watershed community for more than 50 years and delivering a successful tree planting program since 1983. Working with landowners, RVCA has planted more than 6.6 million trees, including 2 million in the City of Ottawa.
Forests Ontario was founded in 2014 through a merger between Trees Ontario (incorporated 1994) and the Ontario Forestry Association. Today it continues the work begun in 2003 to develop the complex infrastructure necessary to ensure successful large-scale plantings across the province.
The organization takes a "seed to survival" approach, supporting every step of the process from seed collection to germination to planting and monitoring.
Today, Forests Ontario supports the planting of millions of trees across the province and country each year, for a total of 34 million to date.
The past few years have not been without their challenges. Provincial funding for the 50 Million Trees Program was cut in 2019, which put the infrastructure supporting the creation of new forests (also known as afforestation) across the province in jeopardy until the federal government stepped in.
The afforestation sector now faces an even bigger challenge, albeit a welcome one: implementing the federal government's 2 Billion Trees initiative, which aims to plant two billion trees across Canada in the next decade.
While a worthy and attainable goal, it's a steep climb to hit 200 million new trees a year when Canadian programs currently only plant about 15 million altogether.
"It's a huge goal and it requires long-term sustainable funding," Keen said. While he has no doubt the afforestation sector can make it happen, the base funding for such a steep ramp-up must be guaranteed. "Everyone's telling me the same thing: give them some guarantees this program will be around longer than five years, and they'll decide how to expand their operations."
Seed collection and nursery operations face a particularly tough challenge to meet the necessary capacity.
"No more cruise control; we're going to have to put it into high gear," Keen said. "We need partners at all levels to be on board. And at the end of the day, we need landowners allowing their lands to become forests."
How can you get involved?
Local private landowners with at least 1.25 acres of available land can apply for tree planting services for spring 2022. RVCA staff will conduct a site visit this summer and develop a planting plan that suits the landowner's vision and site conditions.
Staff will then prep the site for planting, purchase the required seedlings, arrange and supervise the planting process and monitor the trees for five years to ensure survival.