January 19, 2020

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Tories chop valuable tree-growing facility

</p><p>From the company's website, Pineland Forest Nursery, located in Hadashville, Manitoba, produces high-quality seedlings for plantings in Canada and the United States.</p>

From the company's website, Pineland Forest Nursery, located in Hadashville, Manitoba, produces high-quality seedlings for plantings in Canada and the United States.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/5/2018 (625 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The provincial government is selling a massive tree-growing operation near Hadashville that produces and stores seeds for every type of tree grown in Manitoba.

The Pineland Forest Nursery provides seeds and seedlings for reforestation in their indigenous areas. There are 67 greenhouses on seven acres, and a 300-acre growing area on the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Minutes after the province announced Thursday afternoon that it would close the Pineland Forest Nursery Dec. 31 because it is costing too much, Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen issued a request for proposals for a private buyer. He suggested a private buyer could use it to grow cannabis.

The news came out of nowhere for the University of Winnipeg’s forestry and climate change researchers.

"Pineland, for decades, has been our keeper of the seeds. At one point in the late ’90s, Pineland would produce 20 million trees. Now it’s about 10 million," said University of Winnipeg Prof. Richard Westwood, chair of the department of environmental studies and science.

"It’s state of the art, it’s a valuable investment — they produce fantastic trees. It provides a public service," said Westwood, who heads a team of U of W researchers that conducts climate change research at the site.

He said Pineland’s products reforest primarily after logging operations rather than after fires.

"They have a very important seed bank storage area there for all the areas of Manitoba," Westwood said. "It’s critical the province find a facility. Someone’s got to grow those trees for us."

Aides to Pedersen and to Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires did not respond to questions Thursday about how Manitoba will handle reforestation once the Pineland facility closes, or about the financial reasons for selling the property.

Instead, the civil service issued a statement: "As part of an ongoing, extensive value-for-money review across government it was determined that the Pineland Forest Nursery, near Hadashville, is no longer viable as a provincially run operation and will be ceasing its operation on Dec. 31, 2018. The province is seeking to maximize the value of this asset through the upcoming RFP."

"Pineland Forest Nursery has been operating at Hadashville since 1953, and was originally established to produce seedlings for the province of Manitoba but grew to produce seedlings for customers outside the province as well. This year approximately 525,000 seedling are being grown for out-of-province contracts. Pineland can grow a variety of trees but specializes in conifers such as white spruce, black spruce, Norway spruce, jack pine, red pine, eastern white pine and Scots pine," said the provincial official.

"Manitoba rarely replants forests that burn, as they regenerate naturally, so that is not an issue. Future seedling needs will be supplied through a tender process with private nurseries," he said.

Pedersen was not made available to the media to answer questions. Instead, he issued a news release. In it, he made it clear that any buyer can decide how to use the property.

"The RFP is expected to generate significant interest, with opportunities for new and creative ventures in areas such as agriculture, horticulture or even cannabis production," Pedersen said in the release.

Pedersen said the 67 greenhouses are on seven acres, with adjacent access for the lease of 300 additional acres of growing area. It features "eco-friendly equipment including an 8.5-million BTU biomass boiler that is part of a Manitoba Hydro demonstration project."

Even though permanent staff will be reassigned to other jobs, Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Michelle Gawronski was "dumbfounded and horrified.

"I can’t believe they would do something this stupid," Gawronski said. "For heaven’s sake, he should be the steward of our environment, not an auctioneer.

"Our environment is not for profit. How do we ensure our habitat is going to go back to the way it was?" she asked.

Gawronski said she toured the facility two years ago and watched staff harvesting acorns salvaged from the massive wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alta., growing the seedlings so that the city could be reforested with native species.

It’s open to the public for sales, she pointed out, and people from eastern Manitoba know it well: "If you want to build a windbreak, you go over to Pineland."

Westwood said the province has not informed the U of W that Pineland is closing.

"We have some long-term climate change trials there. They’re supposed to run 20 to 30 years there. Other people have research there," Westwood said. "Nobody’s told us anything.

"They have a really nice set-up there. It’s designed to grow trees, not pot," he said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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