Opinion: Closing seed facility risks forests’ future

November 9, 2017

By: The Working Forest Staff

The following is letter to the editor submitted by Barb Boysen, general manager of the Forest Gene Conservation Association and Melissa Spearing, FGCA’s Seed Program Coordinator. 

“Tree seeds are of course critical to future forests. Management of high quality seed of known origin is crucial if our future forests are to withstand the impacts of climate change. Despite this, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has decided to close the Ontario Tree Seed Plant (OTSP) in less than a year. 

Located in Angus, Ont., since 1923, it is a unique facility that is home to expert processing and storage of billions of tree seed. The OTSP is the seed bank for future forests in southern and northern Ontario, managed by 6 expert staff with an annual budget less than $2 million. The shutdown decision came as a surprise – no analysis of other delivery or cost cutting options, and no consultation with clients, stakeholders and the community. 

Historically, MNR Seed Program staff managed seed for government programs that annually planted over 100 million trees on Crown Land in Northern Ontario, and up to 20 million on private land in Southern Ontario. Those trees became the forests that surround us today. 

In the mid-`90s, cutbacks saw the MNR reforestation program dismantled. Tree nurseries, established by pioneering foresters Drury and Zavitz in the 1920s, were closed and sold, and plans made to privatize the Seed Plant. The Forest Gene Conservation Association (FGCA), working with stakeholders, helped MNR management understand that tree seed expertise was an irreplaceable ecological and social benefit. Even private nurseries advocated for keeping the Seed Plant in public hands. 

In 1999, MNR leadership reconsidered, and recognized the value of the OTSP’s critically important role in providing genetically adapted native seeds for planting programs. Tree nurseries were able to increase the propagation of locally adapted trees for our cities and countryside. OTSP seed was the foundation for the 50 Million Tree Program in 2007, without it, the program could not have been built. 

The OTSP closure is a game changer – with the potential to be a game ender. The FGCA and Forest Ontario’s grower and planting partners are very concerned. Where will the millions of stored seeds go? Where will next year’s seed crops be processed? Who will monitor seed quality and track seed source? Who will invest in the expertise needed to establish and maintain a long-term seed bank – a critical weapon to fight the impacts of climate change? 

Dianne Saxe, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, recently reported that Ontario’s forests are under increasing stress from climate change. Climate models show that southern Ontario’s trees, adapted to a warmer climate, will be the best source of seed for Northern Ontario before the 22nd century. But many southern forests have been lost to agriculture and development. The remainder face introduced exotic plants, insects and diseases that challenge native trees from regenerating. Given these serious threats, seed management and banking capacity needs to be increased, not stopped.

Premier Wynne has shown leadership on climate change – a tremendously complex challenge. And the FGCA knows the best way to manage complex challenges like forest restoration is to make it easier for people to do the right thing. But this short-sighted decision by the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, to abandon seed management and banking, will make it very difficult to ensure the resilience of Ontario’s forest under climate change. 

There is no future without forests, and no forests without seed. The plan to close the OTSP must be reconsidered. 

The FGCA invite you to ask questions and get involved. Join this mission to ensure our government shows the leadership critical to our future.” 

Authors: Barb Boysen FGCA general manager, [email protected] and Melissa Spearing, Seed Program Coordinator, [email protected] 

Your comments.

  1. Lacey says:

    Great letter Barb and Melissa! How would be the best way for others to get involved?

  2. SP says:

    Could your Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry be a closet globalist? I suspect so. There is a dark underbelly to the UN’s Agenda 2030 “sustainable growth” initiatives. Essentially a bunch of pretty sounding words that actually serve to limit and corral the human population, preventing us from using our own natural resources, allowing corporations to patent plants, and thus deprive humanity of free nature. It’s all about power, greed, and control. They are trying to “patent” the Marijuana plant in the US right now, which will effectively make owning seeds illegal, like what Monsanto has done to our farmers. It’s a huge trap. Your tree seed problem will soon be a world problem, because these initiatives can be found in every NATO country moving toward the UN’s 2030 goals. Please investigate all sides of it and then organize non-violent rebellions against it in your own country. Good luck!

  3. J. Slywchuk says:

    Trees are very, very good. Actually they are essential. Stop this closure.

  4. Brian Paradoski says:

    Barb
    You are spot on with your letter. The decision to close the OTSP is detrimental to Ontario and all Ontarians. With tree planting the most important tool to fight climate change…why is our government behind this. P.Wynne talks the talk, but fails miserably in acting responsibly in this matter. I sincerely believe that it’s all about money. Sure, the operation of the OTSP is only 2 million a year, but it’s not a revenue generator for the Liberals. With another very important call, why haven’t the stakeholders been involved? Who really made the decision? If the OTSP closes next September…what is plan B for nurseries that rely on this superior seed source?
    B.Paradoski

  5. Carol Bulmer says:

    How are we going to regenerate our forests without seed facilities?!

  6. Bernie says:

    I think the FGCA needs to establish an online petition to not close the OTSP. There are really good arguments in this article that can gain the support of many in Ontario.

  7. Susan Hay says:

    This is not the way to cut costs! Now, more than ever we need to be planting more trees and replacing those that succumb due to disease and damage due to climate change.

  8. Carol Bacon says:

    Is there a contingency plan to have some universities or other organizations assist with the storage of the seeds? “A call to arms” (or seeds in this case). Please let us know if there is a petition. Thanks for raising the alarm and wonderful letter.

  9. Phil Shantz says:

    Government keeps talking about the need for climate change adaptation/resiliency and is now investing millions or billions in it. Seems ridiculous to close the facility.

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