Trees are nature’s carbon capture and storage system 

By Tony Rotherham 

During the period of agricultural settlement in Canada (1650-1880ca) 70-75 million hectares of forested and prairie lands were cleared to establish farms. It is estimated that 5-7 million ha are marginal/sub-marginal and are not suitable for modern agriculture. 

The farms on these poor soils provided a subsistence level of living to several generations of rural families. During the period 1920 to the present, many owners of these marginal farms decided that the farm could no longer meet the needs of the family and they turned to other employment. The land is going out of production and no longer makes a contribution to the rural economy. Active agriculture is being abandoned and the fields are regenerating naturally to shrubs and brush that will eventually develop into forest. This process often takes 70-90 years to establish a forest stand capable of making a contribution to the rural economy. But fields and pasture planted with site-adapted species of native conifers (spruce, pine and fir) will return to economic productivity in 30-35 years. 

Idle land makes no contribution to the rural economy. Plant trees. Increase the area of forest in southern Canada where habitat for forest-dependent species of wildlife has been depleted by clearing land for agriculture and urban development. 

While the trees are growing they capture atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and build it into wood. Afforestation of these idle lands offers an opportunity. 

The trees will sequester large amounts of atmospheric carbon as they grow, and moderate the rate of run-off after spring thaw and storms, reduce erosion, conserve water quality and provide additional forest habitat for wildlife. 

A plantation of spruce or red pine will grow at a rate of about 10 cubic meters of merchantable wood per hectare each year. If we add the wood in the root mass, stump, tops and branches; total growth is about 18m3/ha/yr. It is interesting that a cubic meter of wood holds about the volume of carbon emitted by the combustion of 320 litres of gasoline or diesel. Each year a hectare of conifer plantation will capture the GHGs emitted by the combustion of about 18 x 320=5760 litres of fuel. 

Per capita consumption of gas and diesel in Canada is about 1500 litres/year. 

The population of TBL is 5923, the land area is 20,600 ha.Total fuel consumption is approx. 9 million litres. It looks as though planting 1550 ha (7% of the area of TBL) of trees on old fields might capture all the GHGs emitted by cars and trucks in TBL. 

The population of West Bolton is 732. The land area is 10,200 ha. Total fuel consumption is approx. 1.1 million litres. Planting 190 ha (2% of the area of West Bolton) of trees on old fields might capture all the GHGs emitted by cars and trucks in West Bolton. 

Should we try to become “green communities”? How about a joint venture? 

The Federal ‘2 Billion Tree Program’can provide funds.