Opinion Letters

Tree-seed collection going to private sector

After 94 years, our provincial government is closing the doors of the Ontario Tree Seed Facility. Why now?

When the Tree Seed Plant was opened in 1923, it was a key part of an ambitious reforestation project in Ontario. The 19th-century lumber industry left acres of stumps and slash that farmers burned to plant crops. With the trees gone, water sources disappeared, soil turned to blow-sand, easily eroded by wind and rain.

A group of far-sighted foresters, politicians, civil servants and farmers pushed forward a long-term tree planting agenda that repaired the devastation and resulted in the Ontario Tree Seed Plant, the Midhurst Tree Nursery, Simcoe County Forests and the planting of two billion trees in Ontario. That’s quite a legacy.

But the challenges that faced those conservationists are still with us. Deforestation continues, due to development pressures and some agricultural practices. Climate change is escalating. With their capacity to store carbon as well as water and to moderate temperature, trees and forests are essential mitigators of climate change.

In 2018, the Ontario government plans to leave tree-seed collection to the private sector. If there is a business plan in place for this transfer, it hasn’t yet been made public.

Tree-seed collection is not a high-profit enterprise. A network of collectors from across the province must be trained to find quality seeds from healthy trees. At the Ontario Tree Seed Facility, exact temperature, humidity and timing must be maintained in each of the stages of processing seeds. Some of the equipment is industrial seed processing machinery and some has been adapted by longtime employees over many years.

This kind of experience can’t be transferred in a year.

Local tree nurseries are concerned about the continuity and quality of their seed supply and storage capacity to compensate for lean years. They have good reason. Will the private sector be able to provide the same consistent and professional service? Is that possible in a for-profit scenario?

Municipal officials were surprised by the closure announcement; the community and stakeholders were not consulted.

Have the impacts been assessed and a transition plan formulated? Have expanded uses for the facility been explored? And what will happen to the beautiful grounds planted with specimen native trees and shrubs?

The Ontario Tree Seed Facility is a positive legacy from politicians who acted for the long-term public good. Its closure would mark an abandonment of those principles.

Anne Learn Sharpe

Angus