Stories From the Greenbelt: Working together to increase forest cover and improve climate resilience in communities across Ontario’s Greenbelt

It was clear that the efforts paid off as we stood amongst newly planted trees and were surrounded by trees that were planted years before that were growing and thriving."

Jul 31, 2023   •   News , Featured

Working together to increase forest cover and improve climate resilience in communities across Ontario’s Greenbelt. 

  July 31st, 2023

  On a bright, beautiful day in June, some of my Forests Ontario colleagues joined me in visiting Phyllis Rawlinson Park in Richmond Hill to meet our friends from the Greenbelt Foundation and local planting partners. We all gathered to celebrate the planting of 500,000 trees on   private and public land in the Greenbelt and its river valleys over the last two years. 

It was clear that the efforts paid off as we stood amongst newly planted trees and were surrounded by trees that were planted years before that were growing and thriving."

It was great getting the opportunity to talk with Ed McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation, and Anil Wijesooriya, Director of Restoration and Infrastructure at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) about the project and our work together. 

The park itself – named for Phyllis Rawlinson, a private landowner who donated the land for conservation purposes – has gone through years of restoration work thanks to the hard work of the TRCA and Richmond Hill team, many of whom were also on hand. It was clear that the efforts paid off as we stood amongst newly planted trees and were surrounded by trees that were planted years before that were growing and thriving. We learned about the extensive efforts being taken to restore the landscape to support healthy waterways, including restoration efforts and invasive species management.  It was a perfect example of how it really takes a community of partners to support restoration efforts to bring back healthy forested areas.  

Ed talked about planting 500,000 trees together and made it clear that it’s not just about planting lots of trees, but planting the right tree in the right place – which is something Forests Ontario and our partners believe very strongly in. We have developed the expertise and infrastructure to grow and track tree planting from seed to thriving forest, and we are the only Canadian charity that addresses each stage of this process to ensure our collective tree planting efforts result in heathy, diverse forests. 

Pictured (left to right): Greenbelt Foundation CEO Edward McDonnell and Forests Ontario CEO Jess Kaknevicius

To date, through our 50 Million Tree Program, Forests Ontario and our partners have plated 39 million trees, creating over 18,000 hectares of forest across more than 7,000 project sites. All of our planting projects are different, but the benefits of planting trees are plentiful and include:  

  • Improving agricultural lands: a windbreak planted near agricultural lands will provide a wildlife corridor, help reduce snowdrift, prevent soil erosion, and provide privacy. 
  • Protecting and enhancing shorelines: trees planted along shorelines help protect water quality, reduce soil erosion, and enhance wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and food sources. 
  • Rehabilitating woodlots: forest restoration planting can improve forest health and rehabilitate your woodlot after a weather event or invasive species damage.
  • Tax reductions: the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program is a voluntary program administered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry that offers landowners a property tax reduction on well-managed forest land in Ontario. 
  • Fighting climate change: trees sequester significant amounts of carbon, improve the air we breathe, the water we drink, create habitat for many birds and wildlife, and offer mental and physical health benefits that support healthy communities. 

Speaking of climate change, did you know that grasslands mitigate the effects of climate change while providing habitat for species at risk, improving pollinator health, and supporting biodiversity? Our Grasslands Stewardship Initiative (GSI), which is administered through our Grasslands Ontario division, provides awareness and support towards the creation, enhancement, and maintenance of grassland habitat. To learn more about the ideal habitats for the threatened Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark bird species, and how grasslands support healthy ecosystems and biodiversity across the province, please visit our Grasslands Ontario website. 

Beyond our ambitious tree and grasslands planting initiatives, Forests Ontario also runs extensive education and programs encouraging green leadership across all grade levels and ages. In schools across the province, Forests Ontario’s forestry education programs connect students with their environment and potential careers in forestry. These future forest leaders will help us grow healthier forests, and sustainably manage Ontario’s most important natural resource for decades to come.  

Being together with a group of people who are working hard to create healthier, more resilient communities is an inspiring way to spend the day, so I was very happy getting the chance to meet our friends from the Greenbelt Foundation and TRCA. All those trees we planted together will help protect our freshwater systems, support biodiversity like the pollinators we rely on for crops, and reduce the impacts of climate change like flooding – which is definitely something to celebrate. 

Written by Jess Kaknevicius, CEO, Forests Ontario