Take a deep breath

Cool Tips for a Hot Planet

By Ginny Colling

Ginny Colling encourages us to "remember our roots, take a deep breath, and thank the trees."

They give us oxygen, reduce flooding, filter water, help fill our wells, cool the air and curb climate change by storing carbon. What’s not to like about trees?

Unfortunately, our trees and forests are under assault by bad logging, global heating, invasive insects and forest fires. And that hurts us all.

Until the early ‘90s, Canada’s trees absorbed more carbon than they released through decay, wildfires and logging. That way, they helped slow climate disruption. But not anymore. Since 2001 they’ve emitted more planet-warming CO2 than they absorb, according to numbers crunched by climate analyst Barry Saxifrage. And during our off-the-charts forest fire season last year, they hemorrhaged more than triple the climate pollution released from burning fossil fuels in Canada.

The UN says that limiting climate devastation will be impossible without a significant role for our forests. That means ending deforestation, conserving forests, better forest management and reforestation.

Canada has work to do. We are home to 28 per cent of the world’s boreal (northern, primarily evergreen) forests. A recent five-decade review shows poor logging practices in Ontario and Quebec have devastated boreal forests, clear-cutting an area twice the size of New Brunswick.

We tend to think of rainforests as storing the most climate-warming carbon, but boreal forests hold almost double the amount stored in rainforests. And old growth trees in virgin (untouched) forests hold more carbon, are more fire resistant, and provide better habitat than newer growth trees. We need ‘em.

But in Ontario, the forestry industry has a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to sustainable forestry management. The provincial government plans to almost double industrial logging by 2030, while permanently exempting the industry from complying with the Endangered Species and Environmental Assessment acts. And Algonquin is our only provincial park that still allows logging.

German forester and author Peter Wohlleben says we need to leave our old growth forests intact, avoid clearcutting and let forests reseed themselves for best results. Where large swaths of land have been cleared, replanting with a mix of native trees is best. The forest-industry practice of planting only a couple of lumber-worthy species makes forests more prone to disease, insects, storm damage and forest fires.

We’re all members of the same family tree, so how can we protect its branches?

1. Urge the Canadian and Ontario governments to ban logging of old growth trees, as the U.S. plans to do. Forestry experts suggest the industry instead focus on managing and harvesting from second-growth (previously logged) areas, and use selective harvesting.

2. Support efforts to increase our tree canopy. At the very least we need to preserve what’s left, an effort being made in Kawartha Lakes with the proposed tree preservation bylaw. It may not go far enough, but it’s a start.

3. Give a crap about bathroom tissue. We can do our little bit to protect boreal forests by buying toilet paper that does not come from virgin old growth forests. (Unless it’s from recycled paper, much of it does.) Charmin, and Costco’s Kirkland brand, both receive failing grades in The Issue with Tissue, an annual brand scorecard by the Natural Resources Defence Council. Instead Look for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified products from recycled paper.

And finally, let’s all remember our roots, take a deep breath, and thank the trees.

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