Fed's free tree program axed
The federal government will axe a shelterbelt program which has provided trees to farmers in Western Canada, including Red Deer and Mountain View counties for more than a century.
The Prairie Shelterbelt Program, dating back to 1901, provides seedlings free of charge to farmers to shelter their homes and farms and help with soil erosion.
“I personally think it is a very good program,” said Ken Lewis, conservation coordinator for Red Deer County who explained the county distributes the trees to landowners and provides education awareness programs. “It helps with our conservation objectives in Red Deer County so from there I guess I could say I’m disappointed with the decision.”
This spring 52 people in the county are taking advantage of the shelterbelt program accepting 25,170 trees. In Mountain View County, 50 people signed up, totalling 18,180 trees.
Lewis said for Red Deer County, these numbers are down slightly from previous years but added it does fluctuate.
“There are roughly 25,000 trees this year. In past years 40,000 has been the peak, and it goes down to 25,000 as a range in the last five years.”
Lewis said it’s not likely many of the programs the county offers dealing with planting trees and tree care will continue.
“If people aren’t being encouraged to plant trees from this program, it’s relatively hard to encourage them to go out and spend lots of money to plant them. We’re not talking about someone in town who might plant one or two trees in their yard. We’re talking hundreds or thousands of trees and hundreds of thousands of acres collectively. The impact is huge.”
He said the agriculture service board guides work the county does in respect to the shelterbelt program and said he’s waiting for final feedback and input from them.
In a press release issued by the National Farmers Union, Ed Sagan, Saskatchewan regional coordinator said the decision is short-sighted.
“Shelterbelts have many, many benefits including reducing wind which prevents soil erosion and reduces moisture evaporation, providing wildlife habitat and thus increasing biodiversity, improving crop yields, reducing livestock stress and improving animal health and feed efficiency, as well as beautifying farmyards and reducing heating and cooling costs for farm buildings,” he said in a prepared statement.
The program is part of the Agriculture and Agri-food Canada department. In an email from media spokesman Patrick Girard, he wrote “the use of shelterbelts is a well-established practice across the Prairies and the government will discontinue providing free trees in Western Canada. Agriculture and Agri-food Canada are actively exploring opportunities to transfer staff and all associated assets to interested third parties who could acquire ownership of the distribution program.”