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This article was published 30/6/2018 (878 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s an old expression that you can’t see the forest for the trees.

With the Manitoba Forestry Association (MFA) it doesn’t matter: they help both the forest and the trees.

Executive Director Patricia Pohrebniuk said the organization prides itself on being the one to turn to for answer to all things trees.

Pohrebniuk says the association’s goal is to inspire Manitobans — whether urban or rural — to care for the trees and forests in the province so they can continue to provide lasting benefits to all of us.

"We want to educate all Manitobans about the importance of trees and forests," she said.

Pohrebniuk said it is an important time to value trees because of the stresses they are face, whether through climate change, drought or the possible decimation of ash trees by the emerald ash borer beetle.

The association may have officially been created in the early 1970s, but its roots go all the way back to 1919 with the creation of the Canadian Forestry Association. Through the years, that association, with its founding group of foresters, business leaders, politicians and ordinary citizens, helped educate Canadians about the important role forests play in both the environment and the economy.

By the 1940s, the Canadian Forestry Division — Prairie Provinces Division was set up, which then became the Prairie Provinces Forestry Association, before finally morphing into three individual organizations in each of the Prairie provinces.

The Manitoba Forestry Association will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year.

Bob Austman is one landowner the association has helped.

Austman lives near Beausejour, but has a 173-acre wood lot near Piney. He asked the association for help to create a management plan so it could continue to be sustainable while being used for various things.

"They look at it and ask, ‘do you want it for wildlife? For recreation? Biodiversity? Firewood supply? Timber supply?’" he said. "Then they do an inventory looking at how old the trees are and what species. What value to put on firewood and wildlife and for sucking up carbon. Then they put a plan into action."

Austman said his wood lot now not only has healthier trees, but it provides him with recreation, firewood, a few logs to take to local sawmills, and a large garden area.

"The Manitoba Forestry Association is a very valuable service to people with wood lots," he said.

"If they weren’t around, the landowner could make their own decisions, but they could make the wrong decisions."

Pohrebniuk said that the association’s service is currently on hiatus while they look for funding, but there are other programs they are operating.

She said the association operates three forest centres, one in the Interlake, north of Fisher Branch near Hodgson on Highway 17, one in the Duck Mountain Provincial Forest, and the largest one in Sandilands near Hadashville. Each offers hiking trails and other services, but the one at Sandilands also features a suspension bridge, a museum, a fire tower, the historic Dawson Cabin and the tree-planting car.

Dianne Beaven, the association’s former executive director, said the tree-planting car was created in the early 1920s by her father Allan, the who was the association’s executive director before her.

Beaven said the tree-planting car was a CP Rail passenger car that was modified to be a mobile classroom, theatre and museum. With the co-operation of both CP Rail and CN Rail it was taken across the Prairies.

"It would travel to communities and the schoolchildren would walk to the railway — it was fitted up as a travelling classroom," she said.

"It helped teach people the importance of planting trees and most of the shelter belts put in during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were because of this education program... then our focus changed by going to schools and establishing forest centres. That way, people could get out into a forest."

Pohrebniuk said the MFA has also operated the Manitoba Envirothon for more than two decades. She said it began in 1997 with four teams and 20 students and has since seen more than 640 teams and more than 3,200 students participate in it.

She said the Manitoba Envirothon is a fun way for students to not only learn about the environment, but also to think about issues facing the environment.

"It has been an amazing program," she said. "This program has helped focus these students on what they want to do. Some are teachers now and they bring their own students back to the organization. It has come full circle."

Pohrebniuk said the association also runs the Heritage Trees of Manitoba program, where people can nominate a tree under the categories of record tree, notable tree, historic tree, or under a special category, the People’s Choice Award.

Trees that have been honoured include the "halfway tree" about 20 kilometres west of Portage la Prairie on the Trans-Canada Highway; the oaks in Silver Falls that are believed to have come from acorns collected along Lake Erie and brought to Manitoba by fur traders to use as food, but were dropped by them; and the Plains Cottonwood in Morden.

Kristen Malec, the association’s resource extension officer, said trees in both woodlots and in shelter belts protect the property around them.

"They also help pollinators and wildlife," Malec said.

"They also help the local watershed and help with overland flooding."

Melody Olenick, the association’s administrative and accounting assistant, helps bring trees to people — and helps sustain the MFA itself.

Olenick helps run the sales of tree seedlings, including the Setting Down New Roots Program, the group’s annual fundraiser. She said seedlings can be purchased to use for shelter belts, landscaping, future Christmas trees, or wildlife enhancement.

The tree seedlings for sale include various pine and spruce, as well as larch and willow, and start at $16 for a bundle of 20 small seedlings or $11 for a bundle of 10 larger seedlings.

Want to help the environment while tying the knot? Olenick said the association offers wedding favours — with a tree seedling packaged in a cellophane bag along with a thank-you card and tree-planting instructions — for $32 per bundle of 20 seedlings.

And Olenick said you can also commemorate a loved one’s passing, or mark a birthday, anniversary or accomplishment, by having a commemorative tree planted. For a $25 donation to the association, a seedling tree will be planted at the Sandilands Forest Discovery Centre and the person’s name will go on a plaque inside the museum, while a $250 donation will see a large White Spruce tree planted with a plaque beside the tree. Tax receipts will be issued to the donor.

Pohrebniuk said the seedling sales help keep the MFA running because it relies on those sales, along with donations and funding from the provincial government, to continue operating.

Pohrebniuk said they want Manitobans to realize the benefits of trees even if they are not in a forest.

"Everyone has a part to play," she said.

"Every bit helps. Every tree helps Even the ones in your front yard and backyard help. It is important for everyone to know what they can do to maintain trees. We are here to help."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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