Trees are essential neighbours

It is awkward to celebrate the planting of one tree when vast forests surround Whitehorse, says Myles Thorp. But it's an important exercise, he said.

It is awkward to celebrate the planting of one tree when vast forests surround Whitehorse, says Myles Thorp.

But it’s an important exercise, he said.

Thorp led the tree-planting ceremony at the Beringia Centre Wednesday morning.

With the exception of Nunavut, capital cities across Canada celebrated National Tree Day for the first time today.

A motion passed in the House of Commons in March declaring the Wednesday of National Forest Week, National Tree Day.

Tree days have been celebrated all across the world since 2007. September 17, 2011 marked the fourth World Tree Day.

And Yukon’s natural, and largely untouched forests, should not exclude the territory from participating in the festivities, said Thorp.

“It’s a celebration, through stewardship and education, about trees and the benefits they provide,” he said. “In an urban setting, one tree really does make a difference. But the Yukon, especially Whitehorse, is expanding with suburbs and that does, naturally, lead to the elimination of forested habitats. It’s a type of deforestation, for sure.”

Not only are trees a primary source of clean air, but they also act somewhat like air-scrubbers, said Thorp, because of their ability to remove carbon from the air.

Tree Canada, the national non-profit behind National Tree Day, really stresses the carbon-capture ability of trees.

Since its inception in 1992, the organization has contributed to the planting of 77 million trees and it helps anyone who is willing to make “carbon neutral events,” which plant trees to offset the carbon emitted by people having to fly or drive to the hosted gathering.

In the Yukon, where most attendees have to drive or fly, such a program could double the territory’s forests in no time.

The tree planted at the Beringia Centre is the territory’s official conifer: the sub-alpine fir.

And because of the rate of forest fire returns in the Yukon, the fir has become somewhat of an old, rare species.

“It’s an unusual tree in the Yukon,” he said. “You find it in Dawson, you find it in Watson Lake and you find it through Haines Junction. But because it sort of ingresses into the forest after disturbance, it only really gets to take hold, as the name would indicate, in the sub-alpine areas, along that band right before treeline.”

Thorp knows a lot about trees.

He grew up around Prince George, BC, and remembers watching the landscape change around him – from the pretty remote pioneer settlements his family was a part of in the 1950s, to an area overwhelmed by pulp and forestry development.

“I saw a significant change in terms of the uses of the forests,” he said. “We saw development as a good thing. That was progress, right?”

But when Thorp entered the industry for his own career as a teenager, he decided to dedicate his time to forest management.

“If you want to get economic benefits off your forested landscapes, through industrial development, jobs, all that kind of thing, then it does require a certain degree of management,” he said. “In terms of long-term, sustainable forestry you have to replace the trees that you take off.”

When Thorp left Fort Nelson in 2003 to move to the Yukon, the area saw 4.5 million trees planted, for the 1.4 million cubic metres of forest logged each year.

In the Yukon, the scale is much smaller, with only about 20,000 cubic metres of forest logged each year for firewood, he added.

But that doesn’t mean forest management should not be included in decision-making and land-use planning in the territory, he said.

Thorp was involved in the land-use planning for the Muskwa-Kechika area in BC, just below Watson Lake.

That initiative took more than three years of intensive consultation, he said.

What eventually led to a final plan was the establishment of protected areas – first how much, and then where, he said.

“Once a number was declared, the table moved ahead,” he said of the 1997 plan that he was involved in since 1988.

“The whole ‘protected area’ concept was completely key and central to the whole land-use management strategy. Industry sees it as a trade-off. And so did the environmental and parks and wilderness people at the table as well. It was a negotiated tradeoff between the economic benefits of forests, the environmental benefits and the social benefits.

“It’s a three-legged stool and you have to really focus on that.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at