ERCA Earth Day: Planting a Firm Future in Place

by the WOC Team

One way or another, the choice will be made by our generation, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.
— Lester Brown

Trees enable life. For years now we’ve read and heard about why these quiet green towers of sustenance that dot our landscapes are pertinent for our species’ continued survival. In addition to being excellent carbon sinks and oxygen suppliers, trees promote biodiversity by creating homes for a myriad of species. The complexity of the interconnectedness of ecosystems is often difficult to fully fathom, but without woody forests, the conversation on carbon sequestration and preserving our natural habitat wouldn’t go very far. Fortunately, for all of us in the Windsor-Essex region, we have ERCA championing the race on tree plantations in our area and ensuring we take the right steps towards natural preservation in the area.

This year, the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) marks it’s 20th anniversary celebration of Earth Day. To commemorate this event, we spoke with Gina Pannunzio, ERCA’s Partnerships and Outreach Coordinator, discussing their increasingly popular Earth Day Community Tree Planting event to be hosted this year on Sunday, 28th of April. Since its inception, the event has seen a rise in participation, with thousands of volunteers coming together to plant trees that total in millions in 2019. Pannunzio shares the motivation behind the program, highlights and goals, and why Windsor is a perfect place to host such an event.

The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


How long has ERCA hosted Earth Day for?

Gina : The 2019 Earth Day will be the 20th year that ERCA has hosted this event in the Windsor-Essex area.

What was the motivation behind the program?

Gina : Earth Day is celebrated globally each day on 22nd of April, a tradition that began in 1970 in the US. The first Earth Day jump-started millions of Americans protesting, marching and demonstrating for a healthy, sustainable environment, calling for improvements for clean air and water and protection of endangered species.

Following the success and response to this movement in the US, Earth Day went global, mobilizing over 200 million people in 141 countries, bringing a wide range of environmental issues to the global arena. The first Earth Day celebration in Canada took place twenty years later with a ceremonial tree planning that encouraged MPs and MPPs across the country to declare a Canadian annual celebration on 22nd of April.  

Why is this event important to ERCA?

Gina : Essex County faces many ecological challenges, as it is part of one of the most populated corridors in Canada. As well, it is part of the unique eco-region, the Carolinian Life Zone. This region comprises of only 1% of Canada’s total land mass, but is home to more flora and fauna species than any other area in Canada.

 Much of the landscape has changed or is extremely degraded to accommodate a growing population. This degradation is a direct or indirect result of clearing and increasing drainage for timber, agriculture and urban development. Essex County’s natural heritage loss has resulted in a decline in species populations native to the region; many recognized as species at risk.

How many partake in the planting activities?

Gina : We started out with a small group of volunteers in the early years. This weekend we expect to see over 1,200 volunteers representing individuals, families, clubs, groups, businesses, teams, organizations etc. across Windsor-Essex to come out and plant trees.

Volunteers prepare to plant trees at an ERCA celebration of Earth Day at Malden Park in Windsor, Ont. in 2006. (Nick Brancaccio /  The Windsor Star )

Volunteers prepare to plant trees at an ERCA celebration of Earth Day at Malden Park in Windsor, Ont. in 2006. (Nick Brancaccio / The Windsor Star)

What kind of trees are planted at the event? Are they locally sourced?

Gina : The trees we are planting at this year’s Earth Day event total 2,200 large potted stock and seedlings or younger trees. The species we are planting include Pin Oak, Freeman Maple, Eastern Cottonwood, Swamp White Oak, White Oak, Sycamore, Red Oak, American Elm, Autumn Blaze Maple and Bur Oak.

Some of the trees we are planting at the Earth Day event are locally sourced through ERCA’s annual seed collection program. We collect seed locally and sustainably across the Windsor-Essex region through our Forestry department. We test the seed for viability as well as process, clean and prepare it for shipping to the nursery. When the annual seed collection is complete, ERCA staff send to a partner nursery to grow into seedlings for repurchase in 1 to 3 years for restoration projects.

How does ERCA choose where to plant?

Gina : Earth Day planting locations are chosen based on a few factors. The City of Windsor continues to be an excellent partner in hosting Earth Day, as they have similar goals for increasing naturalized areas. There are many planting opportunities in the Little River corridor and we have been able to host successfully large plantings in the last five years or so to accommodate the growing interest in the event.

What kind of impact have past Earth Day events had on the local habitat?

I always look forward to seeing how much people enjoy planting trees at our events. There is always a positive energy at our plantings, where people are ready to work, curious about the work ERCA does to restore habitat across the landscape and feel accomplished and connected to that work.

Gina : ERCA has planted more than six million trees and achieved an 8.5%, natural areas coverage. The trees planted at Earth Day events have helped ERCA work towards the 12% target by 2020 of increased natural habitat, which was established by ERCA to reflect the United Nations goal of 12% natural areas for a sustainable balance between nature and development across a landscape. By hosting an Earth Day planting event with the community, we are including residents in a meaningful way to work towards that goal together.  

How do you foresee these events as pertinent to combating climate change in the region?

Gina : Trees play a critical role in mitigating climate change by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. They also play an important role in helping us to adapt to a changing climate by protecting us from flooding and severe storms, and by providing shade during increasingly hot weather. They will also continue to provide a critical habitat for many plants and animals that will also find adapting to a changing climate challenging. There is no doubt that we need more trees and better-connected forests to address climate change and create a healthy region for future generations.

Giving trees: Planters at the 2018 ERCA Earth Day Event

Giving trees: Planters at the 2018 ERCA Earth Day Event

Are you noticing any changes to local environments from previous planting events?

Gina : While it might be hard to tell on any one day what the overall impacts and improvements are from Earth Day plantings, when you look at the big picture, it is clear that there is now established habitat where it was missing. The older sites that we planted trees during the early years of celebrating Earth Day are thriving and do exist not as stand-alone trees but part of a connected ecosystem at these places. This habitat that is now able to support wildlife life cycles and help additional vegetation become established and move through the restoration succession into healthy naturalized areas. We hope that the impacts reach further than the event itself through people’s positive experience and education on the importance of natural areas, especially locally in Windsor-Essex.

What can be done better to increase the success of survival of planted trees?

Gina : Long-term tree growth and survival is the key to a restoration projects’ success. In order to achieve this, trees need to be planted properly in order to get them started at the restoration sites. Ensuring proper planting depth, proper tree handling, applying mulch and a tree guard are a few things we ensure event participants do when planting trees.

The How-To Crew will be present at the Earth Day planting event who are trained citizen foresters to help with the planting plan, tree care and handout as well as helping with quality control. They are able to answer any questions volunteers may have about tree planting. Just look for the team with the green How-To Crew t-shirts on.

What are you looking forward to in terms of future planting activities?

Gina : I always look forward to seeing how much people enjoy planting trees at our events. There is always a positive energy at our plantings, where people are ready to work, curious about the work ERCA does to restore habitat across the landscape and feel accomplished and connected to that work.


Check out ERCA’s 2019 Tree Planting event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1016556231870075/ .

Take part in making this Earth Day count by helping our city go a little more green.