Green legacy means getting hands dirty, protecting environment

It started with a seed – an idea – as the county neared its 150th anniversary. It germinated when a num­ber of people took to the idea of planting trees to help the envi­ronment.

Today, the Wellington Coun­ty Green Legacy program has exploded in growth, in the numbers of trees that are plant­ed each year to the num­ber of people who work on those projects, from planting and germinating seeds to put­ting the trees into the ground.

Rob Johnson is in charge of the tree nursery at the Little Tract, in Puslinch Township. It will have its official opening on May 28 – but it has been producing huge numbers of trees for a couple of years.

The original idea was to plant 150,000 trees in 2004. It seemed like a lot, but the proposal struck a chord. So Wellington County decided to add 1,000 trees every year. This year, it will plant 154,000.

Johnson sees first hand just how popular the program is. People who wanted to plant trees this spring started order­ing them in November, and by early December, all he had left were the about five species of hardwood. “All the evergreens were gone. People who called in January thought they were calling early,” he said.

That, he said, should be a heads-up to the county’s seven municipalities, all of whom are receiving 5,000 trees to give away. He expects there will be a strong demand for them.

It is not as if the nursery has not been producing, either. John­son said from trees planted in 2006, the Green Legacy nursery was able to provide 42,000 trees for 2007, and he goal was to double that for giveaway in 2008. This year, the nursery will indeed provide 90,000 trees that were started last year, and, he said, “Next year, I plan to provide 155,000.”

After that, the program will be running full steam, and Johnson said there are already plans in the works to provide larger trees, first for planting on private lands, and then, later, some trees up to 15 feet high that can be transplanted for special ceremonies and for public parks.

Environment factors

There are a number of reas­ons why the Green Legacy ap­pears to be the perfect program.

First, tree planting helps the environment, and that has been a major issue for the past 30 years with the public, and gov­ernment levels, too, are begin­ning to catch on that people are concerned about the air, water, and global warming.

Planting trees is one way to help in all three of those areas, and research has also shown that it can even be econo­mi­cal­ly beneficial to people to plant trees.

And, planting trees is a relatively simple thing to do. Hoards of people with tools as simple as a shovel and a basket can plant hundreds or even thousands of trees in a single day.

County planner Mark Van Patter has been the county’s liaison and taken the lead role with the Green Legacy pro­gram. He said it is often frustrating when working on environmental projects.

“I’ve been in the environ­mental game for 20 years. You often beat your head against the wall.”

But, he said, in the case of the Green Legacy, “Things are really happening.”

Van Patter figures it was the right program at the right time.

There are thousands of children learning about their world and the environment in schools, and the Green Legacy makes them an integral part of the tree planting program

Probably nowhere in the county is that as obvious as at Rockwood Centennial Public School, where many of the stud­ents are working to help make Eden Mills the first carbon neutral village in North America. That community’s ef­forts have garnered national in­terest.

But it is not just Eden Mills and Rockwood that are involv­ed in tree planting and the Green Legacy. It is everywhere in the county.

This year, Trees for Map­leton received a Trillium Fund Grant of $149,000 to plant trees. The Green Legacy pro­gram will provide them.

Van Patter said, “It’s not just here. It’s not there. It’s every­where.”

Johnson said last year, he had 1,000 students in school across Guelph and Wellington and even beyond, starting by planting tree seeds in class­rooms, another 1,000 students went on planting expeditions or­ganized by the Green Legacy to plant trees on private land, and a further 500 students visit­ed the nursery to volunteer there, as well as to take part in a nature hike on Little Tract.

Johnson expects to maintain or surpass those number from the first two categories this year, and said over 1,000 vol­un­teers will also work at the nursery in 2008. It is not only elementary schools that get involved, either.

Groups from the University of Guelph will be at the nursery this year doing volunteer work, and then they will plant trees the next day, courtesy of the Green Legacy, at the Arbore­tum on the university lands.

Johnson said The Coopera­tors, in Guelph, gives an after­noon off with pay each month for volunteers to work in the community. One group came to the nursery, saw what was happening, and now there are six groups of volunteers from the company.

Johnson is proud that so many volunteers are enabling the county to truly encourage tree planting. He noted that 120,000 of the 155,000 trees being planted this year are going out at no charge.

The remainder have the nominal fee of 25 cents per tree.

And, he said, volunteers can make sure that the trees get planted, and that they “don’t sit in someone’s driving shed.”

* * *

Saving money

Politicians have been yelling for infrastructure mon­ey for many years now, and the provincial government just provided Wellington and its municipalities a large amount of it.

But tree planting through the Green Legacy might also help to save all lower tier muni­cipalities some cash, too.

Johnson said Minnesota and Wisconsin have been working to use trees as a living snow fence, and have tracked the eco­nomic benefits derived from something that already pro­vides environmental bene­fits.

The result, said Johnson, is that for every $1 that is spent on trees to grow a living snow fence, there is a cash value worth $17. That is an effective ratio, and Wellington County is soon going to be trying for similar savings.

Johnson said on May 5, there will be a Warden’s plant­ing in Mapleton. County offi­cials have determined which roads have been adversely affected by snow and will plant trees to help block it. He said hundreds of county volunteers are expected to take part in that exercise.

Johnson said once those living snow fences are in place, there will be major benefits. For example, fewer roads are likely to be closed for white­outs, which will mean more efficient and safer transporta­tion.

The Green Legacy is therefore providing a number of unexpected benefits – and they all started from a seed.