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Ontario Farmer magazine at Angus Tree Seed Facility

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In AWARE News Network
Mar 17th, 2018
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Mayor Terry Dowdall, left, at February 14 Angus protest

Local officials stunned by the lack of consultation on closing of tree seed facility

Mayor Terry Dowdall, left, at February 14 Angus protest – AWARE Simcoe photo

BY DIANA MARTIN Ontario Farmer March 2018

Angus is channelling its inner Lorax to fight for the smallest of the tree family – the seeds.
The Township of Essa was sent reeling when an Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) called Mayor Terry Dowdall to tell him the Ontario Tree Seed Facility (OTSF) in Angus was closing abruptly in August 2017.

“We’re as dazed as anyone else,” said Dowdall, from the demonstration line. “I’ve never seen anything where they phone you that day and (say) ‘They’ll all be gone tomorrow.’ I’ve never seen that.”

Dowdall said as a rule the minister or an assistant will communicate with Dowdall whenever there is an issue effecting his township, or for funding or any other sort of announcement.

This time there was no heads-up and Ken Durst, an MNRF employee was the one to break the news, with very little information to offer on what would happen to the seeds or the facility.

There were five employees at the facility and Dowdall believes the provincial govern- ment thought they could just slip the closure by under the radar without much resistance. But the OTSF impacts more than just the economic stability of five people, he said. It also impacts local and provincial nurseries that depend on the OTSF to provide tree seeds.

“It’s just no cooperation, no communication and no consultation, those three pieces, they were obsolete,” he said. “They didn’t even allow an opportunity for any of these end users to have that discussion except to say it was closed.”

Dowdall said there was opportunities from the municipality that might have facilitated keeping the OTSF open for a year or two longer in order to form a smooth transition of the seed archive and storage into the private sector.

He insists there is good potential to keep the site open, but perhaps use a smaller foot- print and allow the municipality to buy some of the excess A property to create a new park-
land and maintain the trees, many of them unique species, as part of the community’s heritage.

“Basically there’s just been no consultation,” Dowdall said. “No co-operation to come up
with some solutions for the ones that need the seeds, for the ones that want to make sure that we keep all the seeds that we have. And also what we would do with this property.”

ORGANIZATIONS ACROSS Ontario and Canada have joined the fight to maintain the
OTSF, bombarding the Minister’s office with letters pushing to put the closure on hold in order to facilitate a public review and explore innovative ways to revitalize the OTSF.

Dowdall said the closure doesn’t just impact the five local workers, who were offered relocation jobs, and local nurseries but will have a negative trickle down effect across the province.

The North Grenville mayor, David Gordon, penned a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne and then Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Kathryn McGarry, on the impact the closure would have on his community.

Already trying to recover from the closure of Kemptville Campus, the municipality is on the verge of acquiring the cam- pus with the intent to create a education and community hub focused on climate change adaptation and low-carbon innovation.

Part of the plan is inspired by the Ferguson Forest Centre, which itself is looking down the barrel of significant changes and potential employment loss with closure of the OTSF.

“Not only will this impact both direct and indirect jobs in our community,” Gordon said in the letter. “It will also ignore three years of hard work to seek to renew the campus and bring back the jobs that were lost.”

Gordon said the move to close OTSF is in direct contradiction with Ontario’s climate change strategy. He said under the plan’s agriculture and forests and land action area it stated the province’s goal is to ensure forested lands are used in ways that are efficient, sustainable and enhance the removal and storage of carbon from the atmosphere.

Further he pointed to a direct quote from the Climate Change Action Plan that states Ontario’s’ agriculture, forestry, lands and resource recovery sectors will be able to supply carbon offsets to the cap and trade markets providing a made-in-Ontario compliance option for emitters.

“How will your government ensure that there will be sufficient supplies of high quality, locally adapted tree seed of native species,” he said. “How will your government facilitate the implementation of a critical adaptive strategy to ensure our forests will be able to provide the environmental service our society’s welfare depends on?”

Gordon echoed the concerns of a number of special interest groups and stakeholders who have joined the fight for OTSF by questioning the move without public consultation, sufficient analysis of the impact to Ontario communities, and a direction opposite to jurisdic- tions who recognize tree seed processing and banking as an essential social service to help adapt to climate change.

SANDY KURSIS, a member of AWARE Essa, said the prov- ince was shortsighted in their closure and either don’t have, or haven’t revealed the succession plan for growers to invest in the necessary infrastructure, machinery and manpower to collect, process and store the seeds needed to keep the industry moving forward.

“Who’s got money like that sitting around?” she said. “The (loss of) intellectual capitol. Ontario was once known around the world for being a leader in seed germination and understanding tree seeds. We’re just shutting all that down and throwing it away.”

There are concerns the clo sure makes it difficult for private sector growers, like Somerville Nursery in Essa Township, to follow government seed policy as per the Crown Forest Sustainability Act and the 50 Million Tree Program’s objectives.

OTSF is slated to close permanently in September 2018 with all the seeds being dis- persed, with that short of a lead time industry stakeholders are saying there is not enough time to develop short-term, let alone long-term, options that will ensure the quality of seed cur- rently in storage or provide seed for reforestation down to Joe Public.

“(It) does not recognize that the private sector alone cannot undertake this significant and necessary challenge to ensure the resilience of Ontario’s forests,” said Gordon in his statement.

Although the future of OTSF looks bleak, with radio silence from the Ministry and McGarry being replaced by Nathalie Des Rosiers in January 2018, Kursis said there is some hope.

“We had a milestone today, over 10,000 signatures on our Change.Org petition, which is fabulous. Our next step is head- ing down to Queen’s Park,” she said. “We’ve been trying to get through to the Premiers office for a while now, with no response.”

Kursis said she hopes there will be a lot more boots on the ground when the go, to show the OTSF impacts more than just rural voters, it will have an urban impact as well.

If nothing else, Kursis said, there’s an election in June.

“We’re all voters,” she said. “And that’s what I don’t think the Liberals are realizing. It’s our money, we’re tax payers and we want it open. It’s important to maintain the seeds and not leave it up to willy-nilly privatization.”

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