Tree and seed selection: urban forest and tree climate change resilience

Tree Canada


The world is catching on to the tree planting ”fever” with studies telling us trillions of trees can reduce carbon pollution (e.g. Bastin et al.). The Liberal party announced they will plant two billion extra trees if they are re-elected while the Green Party promised to plant 10 billion trees over the next 30 years.

Tree Canada, and many others nationally and internationally, have been advocating for tree planting as a meaningful tool to improve our living conditions, restore negative impacts from development and show how we can actively invest in benefits for future generations.

Trees and forests are playing and will play a determinant role in climate change mitigation. If used correctly they can sequester carbon and be part of a broader climate change strategy. I use the term “correctly”, as there are many examples of good intentions with less desirable outcomes.  

In Canada, over 700,000 hectares is harvested for wood products and replanted. Tree Canada and many other organizations plant trees to restore forest ecosystems, afforest new areas, green communities and support individual Canadians to plant trees on their own private land. This all adds up to a lot of trees.

Having said that though, any planting project can be hit by drought or pests, so some projects need extra care.  With rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, ecosystems are already shifting geographically. For those planted trees to provide the intended benefits, like wildlife habitat, hydrology restoration (i.e. flood reduction) and carbon sequestration, we have to anticipate those shifts and plan decades ahead.

Across Canada dedicated people are working on climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions, including foresters and tree planting professionals. Scientists, governments and NGOs are working to get better at growing and planting trees – trees that will be growing in the right place now, in 50 years and in 100 years. Trees that will be the forest of many, many tomorrows. 

The Canadian Forest Service has its own National Tree Seed Centre where it helps to gather seeds from across Canada and preserve genetic diversity for future generation. They also do research and advise cities and other researchers on which seeds should be grown for future forests!

Since 1992, Tree Canada has planted over 82 million trees across several programs including our National Greening and Grow Clean Air programs.  These programs only plant native species and work with local experts and professional tree planters to plant the right tree in the right place. Every planting done by forest and tree planting professionals includes the choice of the proper seed source and choosing the right spot.

The Forest Genetics Council of BC has developed a climate based seed transfer program that makes sure the right genetical material is chosen to reflect the changing climate. Even entire species are expected to thrive in new regions due to climate change, such as the larch (Larix laricina) in BC.

In Ontario, the Forest Gene Conservation Association focuses on strategic plans for conservation and restoration so that our forests can “evolve” to thrive under future conditions. And in Quebec, a tool has been developed to visualize climate modelling and future conditions for ecosystems and species.

All these examples highlight already, that from coast to coast, the Canadian forest sector is getting ready for these imminent shifts and is trying to plant appropriately. Mistakes will be inevitably be made, however we will learn from them and with every growing season our collective knowledge will increase as we make adjustments to our approaches. 

In urban settings, cities are also using the knowledge to plant the best seedlings within their programs. More and more nurseries are sharing regional and species-specific information and selling nursery stock to their customers.

Just as people have become very familiar with this type of planning for the plants in our gardens, we too have to become comfortable with planting the right tree. (Since if you look around your house, the trees planted have been there for decades!) Canadians can use the climate modelling maps and information to buy the right a tree at a nursery. As well, when buying native seedlings and small trees, your local nursery should also know if the genetic material is right for your area. (More examples of information by region include: Canada wide, Southern Ontario , Alberta , British Columbia)

Ultimately though, we collectively have to reduce our emissions and find alternatives for so many aspects of our society, but in every sector, people are aware and working on solutions, including the tree planting sector. As well, if every Canadian could plant and sustain at least one tree, the growing results would benefit the future and, as the saying goes, “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit”.

So now, like no other, is the time for planting trees!


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