Vast, beautiful, healthy forests define Canada, making up 38 per cent of our land, but they are under attack. Wildfires engulf huge swaths of woodlands in British Columbia; smoke from similar infernos in northwest Ontario reaches as far as Windsor, Toronto, and Ottawa. We know what is contributing to these disasters: climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — Sixth Assessment Report, released Aug. 9, leaves no room for debate on why the Earth is warming but does leave some room for hope: we can still restore Earth's health.

Soon after that report appeared, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set in motion a federal election. The climate crisis was one of the top issues in many polls.

Study upon study has told us we can cool the planet through a very Canadian activity: planting trees.

Our forests solve many problems. Record high temperatures have sparked heat warnings in Montreal; trees provide shade, cooling neighbourhoods by 5 C. When we plant trees, we transform abandoned lands into healthy forests. Trees absorb water, helping to prevent floods. Forests filter and purify the water we drink. And, of course, forests sequester the carbon that we’ve released into the atmosphere that is dangerously warming our Earth.

The organizations I lead, Forest Recovery Canada and Forests Ontario, know how to grow new forests. With our partners, we have planted nearly as many trees as there are Canadians — more than 36 million trees so far.

A recent study by Natural Resources Canada shows that over 50 years, the trees we have planted will remove about 2.24 megatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Together, the trees will sequester the equivalent of the carbon emitted by a million cars driving from Montreal to Vancouver — and back.

The same study notes, “If Canada wants afforested areas to contribute to net-zero emission targets by 2050, additional tree-planting initiatives have to start as soon as possible.”

Canadians are good at planting trees. Ours is the rare organization that works with many partners to fully integrate all the components of tree planting, from seed collection to monitoring the health of the newly planted forests. Dedicated seed collectors select and gather the best seeds of native trees. Those seeds are tended by nurseries across Ontario for at least two years as they grow to become seedlings.

Only then can the seedlings be lifted and passed on to a tree planter. The site is assessed, and a plan is created to ensure the right trees are planted in the right place. Our detailed tracking ensures the seedling is planted in a similar growing zone from where the seed was gathered. The Natural Resources Canada study also found that over 83 per cent of the trees we’ve planted in Ontario are thriving. We monitor the success of all the sites we plant.

Opinion: Studies tell us we can cool the planet through a very Canadian activity: planting trees, writes Rob Keen of @Forests_Ontario. #ClimateChange #GenerationRestoration #Forests

Our many partners from multiple sectors are a critical part of this complex process. We work with more than 90 partners, including First Nations, private landowners, forestry consultants, nurseries, seed collectors, conservation authorities, non-profits, governments, and the corporate sector. Our 50 Million Tree Program is estimated to support more than 300 full-time, seasonal jobs. Our network across the country enables us to support Canada’s forests and plant millions of trees each year.

As climate change continues to impact our forests, the expertise and enduring partnerships of organizations like ours are crucial. We monitor results and, based on the successes and failures of young forests as they grow, make sure we adapt our planting projects to ensure that healthy forests cool our planet for many years to come. If you have land with space to plant trees, please give us a call.

Climate change is the challenge of our era, and forests are part of the solution. As a nation, we have the skill to get the job done. We also have the land. To grow healthy forests that will help us mitigate the effects of climate change in Canada requires skill, experience, and long-term political commitment. We, like many Canadians, look forward to ensuring Canada remains a world leader in growing healthy, diverse forests into the future.

Rob Keen is a registered professional forester and currently leads the Forests Ontario team in sustaining and generating new partnerships to support and achieve its re-greening mandate.

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"Study upon study has told us we can cool the planet through a very Canadian activity: planting trees."

With the caveat that we cannot plant our way out of global warming. Emissions reduction is still top priority.
Due to more forest fires and insect infestations, Canada's managed forests have been a net carbon SOURCE for the last two decades, not a sink. (As The Observer links under this article attest.) Adding to our man-made totals, not subtracting.
Trees provide temporary carbon storage. Forest carbon sinks last only as long as the forest remains standing. A tree ultimately returns all its stored carbon to the atmosphere. Trees eventually release all stored carbon upon death and decay — or all at once in forest fires. Increasing wildfire threats in a warming world limit forests' capacity to store carbon. Drought, wildfire, and insect infestations are already turning some forests into net emitters.
If climate change has already turned Canada's forests into net carbon sources, not sinks, planting trees won't help much.
Even President Trump supported tree planting. An easy out for governments faking climate action.
"Tree planting is Trump’s politically safe new climate plan" (Vox)
"Trump Touts Tree Planting but Ignores Climate in State of the Union Speech" (Scientific American)

'There's no possible way that we can plant our way out of climate change.'
"Tree planting can only offset a fraction of the carbon emitted by humans each year. 'Global fossil fuel emissions totaled about 9.5 Gt C per yr fr 2009-2018, while Earth's land ecosystems (i.e., forests, grasslands) sequestered about 3.2 Gt C per yr fr the atmosphere,' said Logan Berner, Assistant Research Professor at Northern Arizona University. 'Thus, burning fossil fuels emitted about 3 times as much carbon each year as was taken up by all of Earth's land ecosystems!'
"In boreal regions, planting trees can increase warming because forests reflect less sunlight than the snow-covered landscapes they replace.
"Planting trees is not going to solve the problem of climate change if we don’t reduce GHG emissions. As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change, large areas are becoming unsuitable habitat for trees due to direct water stress and indirectly through fires and insect outbreaks. Moreover, some existing forests are slowing in their capacity to uptake carbon.
"Planting trees is a distraction from solving climate change, which can only happen through a transition to cheap clean energy."
"The potentials and limitations of tree plantings as a climate solution" (Climate Feedback)
"A trillion trees will not be enough if emissions continue to rise
"We can't tree-plant our way out of our fossil fuel problem
"Tree planting seems like an easy solution to climate change, but without a reduction in fossil fuel emissions, the effort is a drop in the bucket."
"Comment on 'The global tree restoration potential'
"Bastin et al.’s estimate that tree planting for climate change mitigation could sequester 205 gigatonnes of carbon is approximately five times too large. Their analysis inflated soil organic carbon gains, failed to safeguard against warming from trees at high latitudes and elevations, and considered afforestation of savannas, grasslands, and shrublands to be restoration.
"Although ecological restoration, if carefully implemented, can have a role in mitigating climate change, most fossil fuel emissions will need to stop to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement."
Planting trees provides a range of ecological benefits, but we should not count on trees to solve our emissions problem.

To mitigate the growing effects of climate change, we need to spend more time changing forestry from timber extraction and tree planting to forest protection and restoration than planting trees. This means more protected forests and the elimination of clearcuts/tree plantations. The direct and indirect impacts of industrial forest management are the primary reasons that Canada's forests have shifted from carbon sinks to carbon sources. Our forests have moved from being a climate asset to a climate liability thanks to "sustainable forestry" that converts biologically diverse forests with trees that range from 200 years + in boreal forests to 1000 years + in temperate rain forests. Following logging, scientific studies show us that at least 250 years of forest growth and development are needed in a temperate rain forests to get back to the same level of carbon sequestration and storage as existed before logging. A similar relationship between carbon losses and forestry occurs in all forests where industrial forest management is carried out. By ignoring the serious impacts of converting natural intact forests to logged tree farms, foresters are placing their responsibility to protect the public interest secondary to protection of the interest of their employers. Time for professional foresters to become part of the solution, not part of the problem in the climate emergency. For more details on carbon and forests, see Barry Saxifrage's detailed articles on these topics in the National Observer.
Herb Hammond, Forest Ecologist and Professional Forester