The federal government has planted less than half a per cent of the two billion trees it pledged to put in the ground across Canada by 2030, The Canadian Press has learned.
Figures obtained through an access to information request show 8.5 million trees had been planted as of mid-November, representing just over 0.4 per cent of what the Liberals have repeatedly promised.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the pledge during the 2019 election campaign, and the goal was repeated during the government's 2020 throne speech setting out policy objectives.
It asserts the two billion trees would help Canada meet its climate-change targets while creating roughly 4,300 new jobs.
Despite the sluggish start to the tree-planting effort, the Ministry of Natural Resources said the program isn't falling behind.
"There will be about 30 million trees planted by the end of this year. Tree planting as part of this program will continue to ramp up," said Joanna Sivasankaran of Natural Resources Canada.
"Partners" have pledged to grow those 30 million trees, according to the department, which has not yet received or validated all the figures.
Green MP Mike Morrice said the disclosure that only 8.5 million trees have so far been planted was "incredibly disappointing” but “not a complete surprise."
“We’ve seen a pattern from this government of making grandiose promises around elections, but not following through, this being the most recent example," Morrice said. "Planting trees is one of the cheapest forms of climate action, while regenerating forests can also reduce erosion.”
The government said it's planning a big tree-planting push by the end of December, with a call to register new partners to plant an extra 250 to 350 million trees annually.
Only 8.5 million of the two billion trees promised by @JustinTrudeau have been planted so far. #CDNpoli
It blamed the slow start on sourcing seedlings, which can take two years to grow.
In its reply to the access to the information request, Natural Resources Canada said it had received 120 expressions of interest from organisations to plant trees in February 2021 and is “finalizing agreements to support the planting of over 30 million trees across the country, in both urban and rural areas."
According to government data, 7.6 million of the 8.5 million trees planted since the prime minister made his pledge were in British Columbia. In Ontario, 89,000 extra trees have been planted, with 60,400 in Saskatchewan, 238,000 in Alberta, almost 350,000 in Quebec and 235,000 in New Brunswick.
A wide variety of trees have been planted including millions of conifers, according to the government's data. In B.C, 2.8 million spruce and 3.9 million lodgepole pines have taken root. In Ontario, 18,500 oak trees, including white oak, have been planted alongside maple, hickory and black walnut trees.
Natural Resources Canada said the figures obtained through the access to information request represent "the most recent compilation of 2021 planting data" up to mid-November. It said it would have final figures for trees planted in 2021 by next spring and is expecting more to be added to the final tally from other planting sites.
In an effort to give the program a boost, the government is poised to announce a multi-million dollar push to plant up to 350 million trees a year, including investment in growing seedlings. It is planning to call for proposals to grow trees throughout Canada by the end of the month. Targeted areas include forests, parks, suburban and urban areas, coastal regions, farms and ranches.
The pledge to plant an extra two billion trees by 2030 means that an extra 200 million should be planted every year, over and above the usual 500 million seedlings planted annually, including by the forestry industry.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2021.