Now more than ever, we are in need of new and savvy tactics to assure reforestation. (Photo: Alexa Ouellette)

Over recent decades, forests have been cut down at alarming rates to create space for housing and agricultural lands. While necessary to accommodate our rapidly growing world population, a balance must be kept between forest coverage and human development, particularly in the context of climate change. Now more than ever, we are in need of new and savvy tactics to assure reforestation.

Eliminating tax on forested lands would certainly make it easier for more municipalities to strive for a percentage of forest cover that represents a lower risk."

It is well known that trees perform many of the ecological services we have come to depend on including absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, where it stays put for many years; providing essential habitat for countless species; reducing the threat of floods; preventing soil erosion; and providing a livelihood for humans. [1]. Canadians are aware of these benefits and are always encourages to plant more trees – should we have incentives in place for this?

In a 2018 report, the South Nation Conservation Authority [2] recommends to improve local forest cover in the municipalities within its jurisdiction. One of the proposed policies involved encouraging municipalities to consider a 0% tax rate on all forested lands. This would serve as an economic incentive that encourages residents to plant more trees, thereby helping to maintain or create forested lands. It is beneficial for municipalities to encourage any increase in forest coverage within their jurisdiction as Environment and Climate Change Canada recommends that a minimum of 30% forest coverage be maintained. This, however, represents a high risk approach that may not support a high species richness, and that sustains aquatic systems that are only marginally healthy. A low risk approach is one where 50% forest coverage is present [3]. Eliminating tax on forested lands would certainly make it easier for more municipalities to strive for a percentage of forest cover that represents a lower risk.

The reality is that many people require financial incentives to be able to take action against climate change as some of the solutions we are currently aware of require time, money, and effort. This is true when it comes to planting trees, especially a whole future forest, as they can be expensive and often require some level of specialized knowledge for this to be done correctly. Where exactly should the trees be planted on a property to offer the most benefit? Which species should be planted? Are the trees I planted 2 years ago still healthy? These are aspects of tree planting that most people might not have thought about until they were actually standing shovel in hand, ready to break ground. These are things, however, that a forestry technician has been trained to consider. 

I believe that every tree is important"

Many conservation agencies employ forestry technicians as forests are an important part of any watershed management. Such technicians can visit a property, assess it to determine which trees should go where, and come back periodically after planting to ensure the health of the trees. Such a service complementing a 0% tax rate on forested lands would be most beneficial if implemented at the municipality level. Municipalities could manage the financial aspect of a program while a conservation agency could be employed to help ensure its proper application. Recently, many political figures have made promises to plant millions or billions of trees here and there. Instead of planting these trees haphazardly all over Canada, why not tap into a network of partnerships between conservation agencies and municipalities so that it can be done strategically and can be monitored more closely afterwards. 

Of course, a 0% tax rate on forested lands would need to come with a substitute for the revenue shortfall experienced by the municipalities adopting it. After all, property taxes make up the bulk of their respective budget. It has been proposed that if needed, the loss in revenue could be offset by similarly increasing the taxation rate on cleared lands [4]. This could have the effect of not only encouraging reforestation but also providing an incentive against deforestation. More ambitiously, it can be argued that some of the money collected through a program such as the federal carbon tax could be rechanneled to municipalities adopting the new tax rate. This way, those who make real efforts to be environmentally conscious could receive tax relief both through a system such as the federal carbon tax in the form of tax credits, and through a 0% tax rate on forested lands program in the form of reduced property taxes. Hopefully, this level of financial incentive might incite greener behaviour by the population.

Considering the fact that more and more cities are incorporating sustainability and climate change into their action plans and strategies, it would not be that far off to implement a program of this nature. If even one hundred hectares of trees could be planted, or if a few landowners could reconsider clearing their forests, I would consider such a program successful. Some might say that this would equate to a drop of water in the ocean, but I believe that every tree is important. If, while implementing this, we could encourage more people to see how much more valuable trees are to us when they remain in the ground, who knows what kind of ripple effect this could have on climate change awareness.

 


[1] World Wildlife Fund for Nature. (2019). Importance of Forests. Retrieved from https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/forests/importance_forests/

[2] South Nation Conservation Authority. (August 2018). Protecting and Increasing Forest Cover in the South Nation in the South Nation Conservation Jurisdiction. Retrieved from https://www.nation.on.ca/sites/default/files/FINAL%20-%20FCWG%20Final%20Report_28Aug2018.pdf

[3] Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. (2018). Back to Basics – 2018 Environmental Protection Report. Volume 4: Southern Ontario’s Wetlands and Forests. Retrieved from https://docs.assets.eco.on.ca/reports/environmental-protection/2018/Back-to-Basics-Volume4-Ch2.pdf

[4] South Nation Conservation Authority. (August 2018). Protecting and Increasing Forest Cover in the South Nation in the South Nation Conservation Jurisdiction. Retrieved from https://www.nation.on.ca/sites/default/files/FINAL%20-%20FCWG%20Final%20Report_28Aug2018.pdf

Alexa Ouellette is a Masters of Environment and Sustainability student at Western University's Centre for Environment and Sustainability.

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