Ontario conservation group’s latest initiative is rooted in regeneration

St. Clair Region Conservation Authority launches seed collection program for essential tree species

It’s a tale of branch locations, and it has nothing to do with the corporate world.

Asked how to source a tree, most of us would think of a local tree farm or the nearest garden center. Few of us, though, consider the steps involved in growing and transporting that tree—starting with the seed.

In southwestern Ontario, the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority (SCRCA) is actively involved in a number of environmental efforts—but its most recent initiative focuses on collecting seeds from tree species indigenous to their area.

“We’re the only organization collecting tree seed in our region, and now there is a desperate need for collectors,” says Steve Shaw, the SCRCA’s Manager of Conservation Services.

The SCRCA’s seed collection program ensures that species both adaptable and natural to the area have a chance to grow to their full potential—an increasingly important consideration, as efforts continue alongside a changing climate.

In this case, the seed collection program focuses on deciduous trees, like hickories or maple trees, rather than coniferous trees that are not native, yet widely planted. And with the two resident provincial seed experts nearing retirement—and a major seed plant having announced its closure for 2018—time is of the essence.

“We plant 60 to 80 thousand seedlings each year, but we don’t have an array of staff for collection purposes,” says Shaw. “We’re hoping we can train and continue to mentor several individual seed collectors who enjoy this type of work, and would like to earn a little extra money for themselves while doing it.”

With the bulk of the tree species dropping their seed over the space of a few weeks in September and October, the SCRCA’s seed collector training and mentorship program began in earnest during the first week of October.

Shaw is hoping to get a half-dozen collectors trained for the long term. The SCRCA relies heavily on donations to fund these mentorship programs.

“We can normally get grants to do tree planting, but we can’t get grants to do seed collection,” said Shaw.

Enbridge takes responsibility to the environment seriously, and we invest in programs that promote stewardship, conservation, habitat remediation and environmental education. Enbridge’s recent donation of $20,000 to the SCRCA will be used for the seed collection training program, and help pay the collectors themselves.

Currently, 75 acres of Enbridge Gas Distribution’s gas storage facility in Tecumseh, Ontario have been transformed from farmland to forest by the SCRCA. The project’s remaining 20 acres are slated to be completed by spring 2018.

It takes decades for a tree to grow full size, but Shaw says his staff finds fulfillment in planning projects and seeing them take root quickly.

“Our environmental restoration projects produce results almost immediately,” he says. “It’s so great that we don’t have to wait decades to see results—plus, we get to see these projects mature through the years.”