Monday, April 16, 2012

Can't see the forest...

In the city where I live, every single tree was hand-planted. There are over 350,000 of them. "Oasis" is probably a fair descriptor, given that we are also located in the semi-desert Palliser's Triangle and get 15 inches of annual precipitation.

We also happen to be frequently ravaged by winds - 22 km/h is the average, but a recorded high wind gust clocks in at 153 km/h. And our temperatures typically range from -40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit) to +40 (Celsius).

So, despite the fact that tall trees are not native to our area, it's understandable that our ancestors planted so many. On farms, they prevented soil erosion from those constant winds, reduced moisture evaporation, provided wildlife habitat and increased biodiversity, protected livestock, trapped snow, reduced heating and cooling costs by sheltering nearby buildings, and made everything look nicer. Now, we also value them as carbon sinks.

This is why the federal government's decision to cut the Prairie Shelterbelt Program is ridiculous. This 111 year program has provided more than 650 million seedlings to farmers, and was a major factor in ameliorating the effects of the Dirty Thirties.

Our ag minister argues that, due to no-till and continuous cropping, trees aren't needed to prevent soil erosion; in fact, they get in the way of the big machinery used by big farmers - or, as our premier calls them, "producer-entrepreneurs of the highest order". Maybe our ag minister, a failed ostrich farmer, doesn't know about all the other benefits of trees. It's certain that he's not listening to the scientists who are trying to tell him.

I'll let William Blake have the last word:

"A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees."
William Blake, Proverbs of Hell, 1790   

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