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dude it’s a carbon capture factory. why shut it down?

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Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Dear Reader,

I am writing a letter to the MPP’s in my riding to find out what position they have  on the planned closure of the Ontario Tree Seed Plant. Normally I wouldn’t bother you with political stories but if you take the time to read some of the links below, you will understand the critical importance of the capacity and expertise to store and process all of the seed we require to plant billions of trees across Ontario. That capacity has been eroding since the 90’s and now the final nail in the coffin has arrived just when we need it most. I have posted a draft of the letter here should you decide you want to write the candidates in your riding  to see if they care about green infrastructure, climate change, forests and breathing in general. I think this is an election issue and its about time politicians stop throwing around greenwashing words like “green infrastructure” and “sustainability” and commit to specific practical projects moving forward.

Ontario Plant Restoration Alliance is Good People

Lately I have been speaking with really smart people from Ontario Plant Restoration Alliance (OPRA). Stefan Weber its cofounder is looking to support seed conservation in the Hamilton region and act as a node for people to come together around source identified seed harvesting, processing, propagation and planting. During the meeting we had a great presentation from Melissa Spearing on behalf of Forest Gene Conservation Association (FGCA). This is where the real story starts.

Spearing told us about Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry plans to shut down the Ontario Tree Seed Plant (OTSP).

Stop. Wait. What?

Camp Borden

Photo by Deseronto Archives

OTSP was founded with surplus airplane hangers from Camp Borden and is located in the town of Angus. Since 1923 OTSP has been the place to go for source identified seed for almost 100 yrs. OTSP has had several significant upgrades along the way including a 4.2 million dollar investment in 1988 and a 1.5 million dollar boiler last spring. According to Spearing “it’s a carbon capture factory when the trees planted from those billions of seeds are used in reforestation, adding more canopy cover than currently exists or by using faster-growing seed sources to suck up CO2 faster. Hmmm, and where do we need native tree cover the most? In Southern Ontario!”

Spearing mentioned “OTSP did and could’ve done more than just trees. It was also a biodiversity factory, ensuring well-adapted Ontario seeds were available over imported and possibly invasive species. Shrubs, grasses, herbaceous plants, you name it–any native seed needed for local restoration projects by a Species at Risk recovery team, grower, researcher, school group, or gardening club was available at request to support the public good. That facility was unique amongst Canadian institutions for offering a full suite of seed services beyond just the forestry sector. ”

Folks, Melissa Spearing does not come to play. Her in depth knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious and was the inspiration for this blog post.

Look at These Letters of Support!

After the announced closure the  FGCA wrote an urgent note about the impending closure (Update as of Feb 2018).  Here are some links to more letters written by multiple stakeholders:

Landscape Ontario – “The cost of the Ontario Seed Plant is miniscule compared to its role…”

North East Seed Management Association (NeSMA) – “it must be recognized that the private sector alone cannot meet the challenge…”

Canadian Institute of Forestry “shows a disturbing lack of vision for Ontario forests”

Ontario Urban Forest Council “Having a publicly owned facility…is essential to protecting the genetic and species diversity of Ontario forests”

Green Infrastructure Ontario “The plant supports many functions that support the OMNR’s mandate”

Dufferin Simcoe Land Stewardship Network “unaddressed were the short and long term ramifications of such a closure”

Society for Ecological Restoration ” (closure) does not support the goals and objectives of the Ontario Biodiversity Strategy, the Ontario Invasive Species Act or the Conservation Authorities Act”

the Mayor of North Grenville “(closure) presents a contradiction with Ontario’s climate change strategy.”

Friends of the UTOPIA gristmill and park ” All of us were shocked by the lack of public consultation before the announcement was made a few weeks ago AND by the announced closure date of September 2018.”

Irene Fedun “(OTSP) is managed by only six expert staff and costs less than two million dollars annually.”

Terry Schwann MSc. R.P.F “This closure further highlights the erosion of interest in the forests of southern Ontario by this government.”

Kettle Creek Conservation Authority “The seedling stock we plant is sourced from nurseries who rely on seed from the Ontario Seed Plant.”

Local News and Politicians Getting On Board

Last summer local news in Barrie ran a story about OTSP closure .

MPP Jim Wilson wrote an open letter about the closure. Then during question period he objected to the closure.

Leaving aside the irony that the Conservatives tried to shut it down in the Harris years its pretty good TV watching Conservatives argue to keep public facilities.

Then in December 2017 the National Post picked up the story although they a spent a little too much time being cutesy about cats for my taste.

Also in December members of AWARE Simcoe visited OTSP after hearing rumours that the plant was already being dismantled and sold for parts (it isnt…yet).

Lots of People Care About OTSP (Rant)

To date over 10,000 people have signed a petition to stop the closure of OTSP.  In all this I have yet to find a reasonable explanation or anyone who publicly supports the closure. The whole thing runs with 6 staff and a measly 2 million dollar budget (1 million most years if you don’t count the new boiler bought last year). The closest I got to an explanation was from an employee who told me that its not in the mandate of the MNRF to do this critical work. There have been a few rumblings and rumours that a stakeholder that stands to gain the most from the closure has key ties to decision makers. It wouldn’t be too hard to believe that some kind of shenanigans is going on even though key knowledge, expertise and the unique facility itself is set to be thrown away. I just can’t shrug my shoulders and move on. If the federal government keeps talking about green infrastructure investment can we please acknowledge that this facility has the capability of pumping out carbon storage solutions by the millions. Damn. Ok rant over.

Extra Points for Reading More…

For those of you who want to do the deep dive into key strategies forest managers need to adopt for climate change adaptation read on. Fair warning its pretty bleak.

On a more cheerful note if you would like to read about the legacy of Edmund Zavitz who started OTSP and was responsible for saving Ontario from becoming a wasteland check out 2 Billion Trees and Counting. This is a great reminder that people are the dominant determinant of vegetation composition across the landscape whether its the urban environment or rural Ontario.

Well if you have made it this far dear readers I urge you to consider signing the petition and/or sending my draft letter to your local candidates to see where they stand on this issue. 

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7 comments on “dude it’s a carbon capture factory. why shut it down?”

  • skai says:

    Thanks for this great post, Jonas. I signed the original petition, but your draft letter is making it easy to take the next step and buttonhole my MPP Cristina Martins on the issue. Another copy will go to Nathalie Des Rosier, Ontario Minster of Natural Resources and Forests, pointing out that the $1 million dollar savings expected from closing the plant are negligible in the context of their $761 million budget, while its loss is incalculable.

  • Barb Boysen says:

    Jonas – DUDE! So glad that you ran into Melissa, and kudos for your understanding, passion and action on this issue. Local action makes better government and better forests. People – June election is 4 months away. No political party has this one wrapped up. All need to hear our concerns. For too long our forests have been taken for granted. Like a tiny seed has the potential to become a large 200 year old tree, your own small actions can also ‘bear fruit’. Barb Boysen http://www.fgca.net

  • Katrina Van Osch-Saxon says:

    Excellent job. This decision, made without forethought and surely not based on science is tragic and disheartening. Thank you for you well written blog and letter!

  • Desiree says:

    As you know, I am not a gardener or an official agriculturist, but i am a human being that cares about this earth, and the people in it.
    what an amazing blog. Am I surprised? Never by your knowledge and passion for this subject. You’ve always told me that it is important for you to do your part in helping the world and this blog and letter proves not just words, but ACTION.
    Thank you Jonas for writing the letter that we can send to our MPPs, and Thank you for putting your “money where your mouth is”. Proud of You

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