Program offers landowners opportunity to help the local environment in a grassroots approach to a federal program

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By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—Trees For All (TFA), a new initiative being launched by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), is looking for private landowners with available green space on their property who may be interested in contributing that space for an allotment of trees. The plantings could potentially be funded through the Federal government’s Two Billion Trees program.

The Press spoke with NPCA Senior Manager of Watershed Strategies and Climate Change Geoffrey Verkade about how the program could create a positive, grassroots-style impact on the environment.

“Our landscape and our watershed is what we would characterize as degraded. It’s fragmented from a natural cover perspective, and we are consistently poor-to-average on water quality readings,” said Verkade.

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He continued, “We know that what we do on the land is reflected in the water.”

“We’re interested in solving those kinds of issues.… It’s not about directly competing with growth, however it’s an opportunity to engage with private landowners,” he explained, noting the need to think creatively when considering ways to “put as many trees as possible back on the landscape.”

He added, “We’re at the goodwill and the uptake of private landowners. We’re not obligating them to anything, but we’re making them aware of a great opportunity to bring this amazing investment.”

In many cases, government grants typically go to projects that are deemed ‘shovel-ready’. Verkade hopes that by opening up access to the public to submit their own ideas and requests for tree-planting projects on their properties, NPCA can create a compelling case for why they should receive the grant.

He noted that the grant would ramp up local planting efforts, adding, “We certainly know the need. NPCA has some experience … but it’s reliant on land supply to do it. We need to solve that problem and we made that the focus of our grant application, which was commended by the Federal government…. They thought we used logic to figure out how to develop a high-volume, multi-year tree-planting program for our jurisdiction.”

NPCA’s municipal partners, which includes Haldimand County, and other partners throughout the Niagara region, are looking at their public land holdings to determine how they can contribute. 

However, Verkade says the reality is that “most of the land base is in private ownership.”

He is encouraged by the feedback the program has received so far, with NPCA receiving multiple expressions of interests through their online portal to date. 

He added, “We’re piquing peoples’ interests…. That will lead to a variety of different implementation methods. You’d have your typical rural methods, but we’re already seeing a lot of residential interest too.”

He envisions the ideal partner for the program as a landowner with a large mowing area that they perhaps don’t enjoy having to mow all the time: “For those who find that to be a burden, some of this green space could be considered as places for trees.”

He said that landowners might also want to consider “marginal” lands on their property for conversion to more naturalized space.

“We aren’t limiting our expression of interest. I’m getting responses from people in well-established neighbourhoods that want to do a tree or two on a residential lot. That’s not what we were ideally hoping for in full transparency, however there are urban tree planting streams with federal program as well. We may be able to develop a tree canopy enhancement program through the urban streams,” said Verkade.

He added, “We’re not limiting it. We’re looking for businesses, private companies, private landowners, our municipal partners – if it can accommodate some trees in some shape or form we want to have a conversation.”

Verkade said he is personally interested in seeing how the initiative plays out as more community members participate. 

“I’ve been involved with the NPCA for 20 years and how we engage the public on these things is a little less proactive than we could be – that’s why I like this,” he explained. “You get the interest up front that gives you some kind of a scope. You can develop programming around it but also you have something tangible you can present to the funders.”

He concluded, “We have an opportunity to bring a significant financial contribution with a large amount of trees coming to this jurisdiction. We’re happy if people want to put trees in the ground to help facilitate and accommodate that.”

Those interested in registering for the program can go to getinvolved.npca.ca/trees-for-all where they can sign up, ask questions, and more.