../Morning Post
Posted October 5 , 2010
Environmental Stewardship

Clare Rennie receives 2010 Watershed Award from GRCA
By Janet Baine

Clare Rennie, the quiet leader behind the Guelph Rotary Forest, grew up on a farm with lots of bush where his appreciation of trees began.

“I’ve had an interest in the environment all my life,” Rennie says.

The Guelph Rotary Forest will see 60,000 trees planted by thousands of community volunteers by 2020, creating a 40-hectare forest on the outskirts of the city. The Rotary Club of Guelph is also committed to help bring the urban tree canopy up to 40 per cent from the current 27.5 per cent by 2020, which is also the 100th anniversary of its founding. For his work on this project, Rennie has received a 2010 Grand River Watershed Award given to organizations and individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to conservation.

“I’m a dreamer,” said Rennie, who has been a Rotarian for 10 years. “I’m constantly thinking if there is a better way of doing things for the good of the people. I take a sales approach. If I get an idea that I’m convinced is good, I form an argument and sell it.”

This is what he did when he proposed the Rotary forest project to the club’s environmental committee. He then found “champions who live and breathe the project.” Rennie developed this management style during his career when he had as many as 1,000 employees working for him.

His career in agriculture included time as a University of Guelph faculty member and an assistant deputy minister with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. After “retiring”, he spent several years going back and forth to China working on a dairy cattle and milk quality improvement project for the Canadian International Development Agency. This garnered him the Friendship Award from China and he also saw first-hand the devastating impact of pollution and the deforestation of hillsides. That is part of what motivated him to take action in his own community.

Planting at the Guelph Rotary forest began in 2008 and 15,000, or a quarter of the trees have now been planted. The Rotary club pays for the trees and organizes a tree planting event that has grown to attract 1,000 people and resembles a festival with entertainment and an environmental expo. The club also work closely with the GRCA’s Guelph Lake Nature Centre which brings school groups in to do plantings.

This event has captured the imagination of Guelph residents. People of all ages, all abilities and all backgrounds come to plant trees on Earth Day. Grandmothers are dragged out of bed early by enthusiastic young planters, families bring their children and youth groups turn this into an occasion.

Each group that plants trees with the nature centre has a group photo taken and is also provided with the GIS locations of their trees, so group members can go back and see how they are growing.

Tree canopy in Guelph is only 27.5 per cent and 40 per cent canopy cover is needed in order to have a healthy watershed in urban areas. Rennie and the Rotary Club of Guelph are working to change this. Guelph residents who plant a tree are requested to let the club know by completing an online form: www.rotaryclubofguelph.com/tree_form.php.

Rennie received the highest possible honour from Rotary International, the Service Above Self Award, this spring. He is only the third recipient of this award from the district and the second from Guelph.

His interest in trees goes back to those sugar maples on the family farm where he grew up. Some of these were native and others were planted through an Ontario government tree planting program at the turn of the century. They became part of his family’s livelihood as they sold firewood, lumber and maple syrup. Who knows how the trees now being planted in the Guelph Rotary Forest will capture the minds of the many people who are planting them?

“Clare is not only a visionary of new possibilities, but always gets the job done with unfailing diplomacy and determination,” says Rotarian Bob Palmeteer.

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