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Ontario tree nursery to destroy about 3 million trees due to provincial cutbacks

WATCH ABOVE: The CEO of an Ottawa-area nursery says up to three million tree seedlings are at risk of being destroyed because of the Ontario government's decision to cut the 50 Million Tree program. Travis Dhanraj reports.

TORONTO – One of the main nurseries for an Ontario tree planting program that’s being scrapped by the province said it will likely have to destroy about three million trees because of the cancellation.

Ed Patchell, CEO of Ferguson Tree Nursery in Kemptville, Ont., said he can’t afford to pay for staff, supplies and operating expenses to run the nursery and maintain all the trees that are in various stages of growth.

“If we don’t have a potential client to buy those trees, then I can’t afford to keep putting money into it,” Patchell said.

“It’s cheaper to destroy them at a young age than it is at the ship age, plus I don’t have to keep carrying the costs. It’s not something that we want to do, it’s something that we’re going to be forced to do because we can’t financially carry it.”

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READ MORE: Ontario government cancels program aimed at planting 50 million trees

Last month the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry announced it would cancel the 50 Million Tree Program, which has seen the planting of more than 27 million trees across Ontario since 2008.

Ferguson Tree Nursery was one of the main nurseries that grew seedlings for the program, which saved landowners up to 90 per cent of the costs of large-scale tree planting.

Patchell said the province allowed for this spring’s tree plant to go ahead, but it won’t continue next year.

His nursery has been growing the trees in fields and green houses in Kemptville through a contract with Forests Ontario, which managed the program and received the provincial funding for it.

The trees then went to planters, conservation authorities, private contractors and stewardship groups. They were planted on private lands to help re-establish forest cover and reclaim sites that weren’t ideal for agriculture throughout the province – primarily in southern Ontario – said Patchell.

READ MORE: Spring tree planting blitz brings 50K trees to London area

Not all the trees are ready for shipping right now, with some of them only a year old, which is a financial challenge for the nursery.

“It can take up to four years before a tree is at a size that it’s actually suitable to ship, so the challenge is, how do we pay to keep growing these things if we don’t have clients?” Patchell said.

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“That’s why there’s going to be a certain amount that will have to be destroyed because of that. We actually have more than the three million in the ground, so that’s what we’re looking at, is having to destroy to keep everything affordable.”

LISTEN: Alan Carter speaks with the minister of forestry regarding cuts to a tree planting program

Patchell said the cancellation of the program will have an impact on the environment, noting it may lead to soil erosion and reduction of forest cover, air quality, water quality and wildlife habitat.

He doesn’t plan on destroying the trees immediately, but said he can’t carry them all summer. Patchell plans to decide over the next month exactly how many trees need to be destroyed.

“There are some people that are showing some interest in supporting the program, so we’ll have to see what happens,” Patchell said.

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“I’ve had lots of people saying, ‘Can I buy 100 trees here or 100 trees there?”‘

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