by DANIELLE BREAULT STUEBING
Reprinted from Rotary Canada magazine, October, 2019
In January 2017, when Rotary International President-elect Ian H.S. Riseley addressed the International Assembly, he made the case that protecting the environment was essential to Rotary’s goal of sustainable service. In keeping with his theme of Rotary: Making a Difference, he challenged every Rotary club to plant a tree for each of its members.
That challenge resonated with Rotary clubs in District 6400, which includes southwestern Ontario and southeastern Michigan — specifically, with the 12 Ontario clubs in Essex County and the city of Windsor. Richard Wyma, a member of the Rotary Club of Windsor (1918), is the general manager of the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA), which manages the region’s natural resources.“
There was a lot of interest from Rotarians about how they could partner with us to fulfill President Riseley’s goal,” Wyma says. “With strong partnerships already established with many of the region’s Rotary clubs, we believed some-thing even more profound could be accomplished.
”The district’s grand dream was to exceed Riseley’s goal of a tree for every Rotarian in the Windsor-Essex region In southern Ontario, ambitious plans take The “legacy forest,” as it’s known, “was a beautiful way of responding to several problems,” explains Rick Caron, the 2017-18 district governor. “In addition to meeting President Riseley’s call to action, the forest would be located in the Lake Erie watershed and help filter phosphorus [from agricultural runoff] before it reaches the Great Lakes.
”Caron also worked with District 6380 in Ontario and District 6600 in Ohio to organize a public outreach session for the Lake Erie Millennium Network that would determine ways Rotarians could best support restoring the health of Lake Erie, which has seen massive toxic algae blooms in recent years that affect tourism and recreation around the lake and pollute drinking water. In August 2014, the high concentration of algae blooms shut down the water supply to about 400,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio.
The Canadian part of District 6400 crafted a participation model based on what its clubs could take on, and in June 2018, as he passed the gavel to his successor, Paul Sincock of the Rotary Club of Plymouth, Michigan, Caron announced that all the Ontario clubs had come together to pledge $72,000 to create the forest.
Over a four-year period, more than 46,000 trees will have been planted at a former agricultural site in the centre of the Windsor-Essex region, adjacent to the Cedar Creek Conservation Area. That addition aligns with ERCA’s strategy of acquiring lands next to waterways and existing conservation areas. “This site hit a number of our priorities,” says Wyma.
“In 1973, when ERCA was established, the Essex region had only a 3.5 per cent natural area cover. Now, after 6.5 million trees planted and 10,000 acres of lands restored, we are at 8.5 per cent. That’s a significant increase, but it’s still short of our goal of 12 per cent.
”The Cedar Creek area is one of the most biologically significant areas in the region, and its expansion through the creation of the forest will improve habitat for species at risk and help mitigate cli-mate change. The district’s plan also includes planting 2 acres with native grasses and wildflowers and creating 5 acres of wetlands. “The additional wet-lands will help improve overall water quality,” explains Wyma. “They will also slow the flow of water into Lake Erie and help manage the nutrients and phosphorus that are a primary contributor to those harmful blue-green algae blooms.”
All well and good, but nonetheless: The thought of planting 46,000 trees is a little, well, mind boggling. Are the district’s Rotarians up to the task? “Rotarians are certainly an ambitious bunch,” Wyma explains, “but ERCA will plant the bulk of the trees by machine.” Planting began on 14 acres in 2018, when ERCA planted 14,450 seedling trees; in addition, the conservation authority planted 2 acres with grasses and wildflowers and created the first acre of wetlands.
This year, on 4 May, 70 Rotarians representing each of the participating clubs — many of them with kids in tow — gathered for their first hands-on tree planting. Though it was a wet and muddy Saturday, they managed to plant 300 trees, and this year ERCA will add 5,750 more seedlings. Rotarians will return in spring 2020 and 2021, each time planting 300 trees, and ERCA will add 25,000-plus seedlings over the course of those two years.
“It was amazing — a dream come true,” says Caron, reflecting on the planting in May. “Seeing someone who had been a Rotarian for more than 50 years planting shoulder to shoulder with Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Kingsville Southshore, which had only been chartered the previous week, was truly inspirational.”