Township Success Series: “Trees For Woolwich” Is A Growing Success
By: Alex Colvin
In June 2021, the ClimateActionWR collaborative released our community’s long-term strategy and short-term plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Waterloo region 80% below 2010 levels by 2050, with an interim community goal of a 50% reduction by 2030. ClimateActionWR works collaboratively with local organizations, community members, and all eight Waterloo region municipalities to transition our community to an equitable, prosperous, resilient, low carbon future and achieve our ‘80by50’ and ‘50by30’ goals. This work is done in accordance with the Paris Agreement and Canada’s pledge to reach net-zero by 2050. Read the TransformWR strategy here.
As we work towards our goals, it is important to also take time to celebrate the great accomplishments that have already been achieved. Throughout the past few years there have been many success stories that deserve to be highlighted. The “Township Success Series” is meant for us to reflect and celebrate these local projects within Waterloo Region’s Townships.
SOARING ABOVE THE TREES
The Trees for Woolwich initiative was launched in 2011 by the Township of Woolwich Environmental Enhancement Committee (TWEEC) and has been one of several success stories of environmental sustainability in Waterloo region. When you read “Trees for Woolwich”, you may think the program is a straightforward tree planting initiative. And tree planting is a big part of their mission. But there is also so much more. In fact, what makes the Trees for Woolwich program a standout success story for Woolwich and Waterloo region is how the program has branched out to include a variety of important and critical work for the community. While the tree planting accomplishments of Trees for Woolwich are impressive on their own terms, their wider actions and outreach has been a standout environmental, educational, and community building exercise.
Photo credit: Woolwich Township Website, About Woolwich: https://www.woolwich.ca/en/living-here/About-Woolwich.aspx
How did it all start? What created this drive to push for change? Well, the forest cover of the Grand River watershed was drastically reduced throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. TWEEC realized that extensive reforestation would be needed to sustain a healthy ecosystem for the region, and aims to improve the forest cover from 5% to 30%. The efforts of Trees for Woolwich have already extended forest cover to 14%, offering a host of environmental benefits to the community. Since 2011, Trees for Woolwich have planted over 48,468 trees, and aim to plant 5,000 trees every year moving forward1.
RESULTS ON (AND ABOVE) THE GROUND
The benefits of tree planting are varied and extensive. For starters, your average full-grown hardwood tree can absorb up to 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide every year through a process known as photosynthesis. This means that by the time the 48,468 trees planted so far by Trees for Woolwich are fully grown, they will be able to remove 1066.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. With continued tree planting and tree care, that number will continue to grow and create an even stronger and more robust carbon sink, capturing over 79,900 tonnes of carbon dioxide over 75 years2! Trees also provide many other benefits, including habitats for animals to enhance biodiversity, tree root systems can prevent soil erosion and water pollution, and forested watershed areas can act as sponges to absorb floodwaters during storms. Trees also produce a cooling effect in both forests and urban areas, by releasing water into the atmosphere through their leaves, and by providing shade. Whether planted in boulevards, watershed areas, or business properties, trees provide a variety of environmental and ecological benefits that grow with each and every planted tree.
Photo credit: Woolwich Tree Giveaway: https://www.woolwich.ca/en/index.aspx
ALL THINGS THAT GROW
Trees for Woolwich is about much more than their tree planting initiatives. Ten years ago they founded a tree nursery, which has since doubled in size, and is currently home to 2,077 trees. More impressively, the nursery was outfitted with a solar powered watering system in 2020, allowing for over two-thousand trees to be watered without requiring additional volunteer support.
Much like young trees, young minds need room to grow as well, and Trees for Woolwich has partnered with several schools in Waterloo region to teach children about tree planting and care. They have offered several programs for younger students to raise seedlings, and learn about tree planting; including Seedlings in the Classroom, a program where elementary school students can care for seedling trees, which are eventually returned to the nursery to be planted in a later volunteer project. While the program had to pause in 2020 amidst the pandemic-related school lockdowns, Trees for Woolwich brought the program back in 2021 to continue teaching the importance of environmental stewardship to young students.
“LESS SEXY… BUT EVERY BIT AS IMPORTANT”
TWEEC recognizes that maintaining healthy trees and growing forests is about much more than planting, stating in their 2020 newsletter that “Maintenance is less sexy than planting but every bit as important” to maintain the trees that are already in the community, and to ensure invasive plants in forest areas are kept under control so that they don’t overwhelm freshly-planted trees. Managing invasive species is an enormous task, but volunteers have done an admirable job stepping up to ensure newly planted trees can thrive without having to compete with invasive species such as garlic mustard. Caring for existing trees is also a big part of TWEEC’s mandate, with tree pruning, mulching, and watering all overseen by a junior arborist who trained volunteers to prune 665 trees in 2020 alone!
THE ELMIRA NATURE RESERVE
The crowning jewel of Trees for Woolwich’s accomplishments is their ambitious habitat restoration project in the Elmira Nature Reserve. Spearheaded by the tireless Mark Schwartz, the Elmira nature reserve aims to create a six-acre reserve that recreates and preserves five different native habitats, which have all but vanished from Waterloo region due to urban development and agriculture. The reserve will recreate an oak savanna, a tallgrass prairie, a maple/beech/yellow birch forest, an early successional forest, and wetlands. Over 47 different species of trees, grasses, and flowers will inhabit this reserve once it is completed. The reserve is walking distance from the town of Elmira and will be an open space for visitors to get acquainted with the original beauty of the region that has been transformed by human development. Funded almost entirely from donations from businesses and companies in the Woolwich area, the Elmira Nature Reserve is a tremendous example of what kind of change a community can enact with the perfect mixture of support, determination, and expertise on the ground.
Photo credit: Trees for Woolwich and TWEEC 2020 “Hind-sight” (and a look ahead): https://content.web-repository.com/s/51012949524766545/uploads/newsletters/2020_T4W_annual_report-2233507.pdf
GET IN, VOLUNTEERS. WE’RE GOING PLANTING.
When asked about how the Trees for Woolwich program had evolved over the last ten years, Inga Rinn, the Woolwich Healthy Communities Committee Chair, said, “Trees for Woolwich has been a tremendous example of what a determined community can achieve over ten years with increasing enthusiasm, dedication, and involvement from the entire population; from kids, to adults, and industries. In a municipality of limited resources, people can have a real impact.”
Photo Credit: New to Woolwich: https://www.woolwich.ca/en/living-here/New-to-Woolwich.aspx?_mid_=6208
Trees for Woolwich is built on the dedication and support of volunteers, businesses, municipal governments, the Grand River Conservation Authority, and community leaders. In 2020, over 1,200 volunteer hours went into just planting operations, with several local businesses providing invaluable support and equipment to make sure every volunteer hour can be as efficient as possible. If you want to be part of this growing success, whether you’re interested in tree pruning, tree planting, watering trees, tending the tree nursery, or promotion for Trees for Woolwich, they would be delighted to hear from you!
1Figure based on correspondence from the Environmental Coordinator in the Recreation and Community Services department for the Township of Woolwich. 2A full breakdown of tree planting figures for 2021 will be published in the 2021 Trees for Woolwich Newsletter.
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