Lower Trent Conservation is celebrating its 50th anniversary! To commemorate this milestone occasion, we have released our ’50 in 50′ historical blog series. This special series features 50 articles highlighting some of the achievements, milestones and events of the past 50 years. We hope you enjoy them!
You wouldn’t guess it today, but following rampant land clearing during European settlement of southern Ontario in the 1800s, the landscape was left denuded of nearly all its trees.
Without that green spongy natural cover that helps rain and melted snow soak into the ground, flash floods and soil erosion were common place and a great concern. In large part, Conservation Authorities were formed across southern Ontario to help with tree planting efforts. Lower Trent Conservation joined the movement in the 1970s, shortly following its formation.
Lower Trent Conservation’s reforestation program likely started with the revitalization of Arbor Day, which was first established in Ontario in 1915 to encourage children to plant trees on school grounds.
In 1975, Lower Trent Conservation rallied to reinstate Arbor Day, proposing to hold it every first Friday in May. The idea was a hit and countless schools took advantage of trees supplied by Lower Trent Conservation for spring events.
Trees were also planted on newly acquired Conservation Lands, as well as other unusual areas in need, such as the old Dead Creek garbage dump near Carrying Place, and along Main Street in Brighton where trees were lost to the 1973 tornado.
Lower Trent Conservation’s reforestation program continued to evolve over the next few years. In 1976, free advice and support with tree planting was offered in headwater areas.
By 1980, Lower Trent Conservation took on large tree planting projects by launching the Tree Planting Assistance Program also known as the Private Land Reforestation Program.
There were two options available to interested landowners, both had a few strings attached. For example, a landowner could plant trees by themselves at no cost (thanks to a subsidy), or have Lower Trent Conservation plant the trees at a cost of 1 cent per tree. Between 2,000 and 20,000 trees were available per property on a first come first serve basis. The trees could not be cut for at least 15 years, had to be fenced off protecting them from livestock, and, needless to say, had to be planted in the watershed region.
Special Tree Planting recognition pins were awarded to those who planted at least 2,000 trees. The first, and later in 1991, the one millionth tree of the reforestation program, were planted on Russell McComb’s property in Cramahe Township. Tree survival back then was estimated at 60%, which was considered very good.
Thousands of trees were also planted on Conservation Lands under the Conservation Areas Reforestation Program. Of course, many volunteer groups were involved in getting trees in the ground, including school groups, Boy Scouts, Cubs and Beavers through the Trees for Canada Program, which was focused on improving the environment while preserving land heritage across Canada.
Many tree planters also worked under the national Katimavik program, which offered young adults opportunities to gain life skills and work experience while contributing to community development.
At the peak of the reforestation program in 1994, nearly 180,000 trees were planted across the watershed that year. Unexpectedly, the following year, massive provincial budget cuts put a stop to the program. Luckily, a new partnership with the Ontario Forestry Association was struck in 1996 to re-establish a tree planting program with renewed funding but at a less ambitious scale. Lower Trent Conservation was back in the tree planting business!
Over 40 years since its humble beginnings, the reforestation program (now called the Tree Seedling Program) is still popular with landowners. Although forest cover has returned to a modest 35% of the watershed landscape, trees and shrubs are still much needed to help reduce erosion along streams and shorelines, to create wildlife habitat, to cool waterways and urban areas, to help rain replenish ground water, and to sequester carbon.
Annually, about 15,000 native species of bare root tree and shrub seedlings are ordered and planted by watershed residents and the surrounding community. You’ll be happy to know that, nowadays, only native species of trees and shrubs are sold by Lower Trent Conservation, recognizing their many ecological benefits compared to some non-native and invasive species (e.g. Russian olive, black locust, tatarian honeysuckle, Scotch pine) offered in the past. Today, you can order your native seedlings in early November and roll up your sleeves for planting in late April.