Manitoba, Carillon — An association representing 300 Manitoba woodlot owners is looking for support for a national tree-planting program that would see under-used private land harnessed to help curtail carbon emissions, according to a report in the Carillon.

“With climate change being such a huge issue, and with the knowledge that planting trees is the best way to sequester carbon, we’re asking the federal government to support a national tree planting program…on marginal land that’s really not that suitable for agriculture,” explained Bob Austman, a Beausejour-area resident and Manitoba board member of the Canadian Federation of Woodlot Owners (CFWO).

The program would be distinct from provincial efforts to reforest Crown land. Interested landowners would receive access to funding to offset the cost of preparing the land for white spruce seedlings, which Austman said thrive in a variety of soil conditions.

In return, landowners would set aside planted areas for the natural lifecycle of the trees, about 80 years.

“It’s a big commitment for landowners,” Austman said, “but they’re very interested in stepping up and helping with the fight against climate change.

In Manitoba alone, 12,500 parcels of land would qualify, he estimated.

Andrew Fast, a past president of the Woodlot Association of Manitoba and owner of Frosty Mountain Tree Farm in the RM of La Broquerie, said he would’ve accessed a national program like the one Austman described, had it existed 30 years ago, when he planted 100,000 seedlings on a quarter-section of marginal cropland south of Marchand.

Fast plans to begin harvesting the mature trees, which now number 140,000, within the next five years.

The CFWO is also lobbying the Canada Revenue Agency to change the tax structure imposed on private woodlots.

“Annual incomes in the industry are variable, and often weather dependent,” Austman explained. “If a windstorm fells a large amount of standing timber, a woodlot owner might see their income spike, pushing them into a higher tax bracket. But the following year could be quite lean.”

To smooth out those income fluctuations, the association wants Ottawa to create a silviculture savings fund where a woodlot owner could deposit a portion of their harvest earnings, and only be taxed upon withdrawal, like an RSP.

“We’re not asking for tax relief. We’re just asking for the ability to carry that income forward so you’re not taxed all at once,” said Austman.

Over the past year, the association has sent letters and discussed its ideas with Manitoba MPs in Ottawa.

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