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DeCloet noted for contribution to forestry

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

Norfolk farmer Paul DeCloet is known for his tree-planting efforts, but many don’t realize he is responsible for planting several hundred thousand trees.

Paul DeCloet in his back yard where he raises trees. A variety of species are raised and can be seen in various stages, including the tulip trees which are one of his favourites.

Paul came to Canada with his parents and nine siblings in 1953. Of the children – Dan, Gabe, John, Paul, Alphonse, Luke, Ben, Mary and Rita – two-thirds of them were either tobacco farmers or in a related manufacturing business.

Paul was a tobacco farmer and first got bitten by the tree bug in 1980 when he purchased a woodlot. “We had surplus land for tobacco that was marginal,” he said of when he first started planting trees. “I enjoyed doing it and it brought me personal satisfaction.”

DeCloet planted more than 100,000 trees on various family-owned land in Norfolk and Elgin Counties. The cost of seedlings varied from no charge to 20 cents through a provincial tree planting program that was based in St. Williams Forestry Station. Trees had been produced there since the early 1900s. DeCloet also did some work planting trees on a contract basis. The Ministry of Natural Resources provided a machine for the larger contract plots. Trees were planted from the Elgin County line to Niagara.

“There was the odd time there was no cost, but most of the time there was,” he said. “The cost was insignificant compared to the overall value.”

Originally, he planted mixed hardwoods and white pine. Over time, the interest in trees was nurtured and DeCloet became a Christmas tree farmer as well. DeCloet grew Christmas trees for 25 years.

“I became passionate about what I did and still am,” he said.

Still a landowner in Norfolk County, DeCloet rents out his land and lives in Tillsonburg. That doesn’t mean he isn’t still active in planting trees.

DeCloet grows small trees in pots in his back yard to be planted in parks and trails in Tillsonburg. He gifts them to interested parties. At present he has sugar maple, cucumber and tulip trees. 2022 was an active planting year with about 50 trees planted.

DeCloet is also responsible for planting of tens of thousands of trees through his volunteer work with the Lions. Through this, he became connected with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and spearheaded planting efforts on the local NCC properties in Norfolk The Lions have planted 35,000 trees since 2012 and more than 100 volunteers participated in the first three planting events on NCC property. The fourth planting was disrupted by Covid and was completed by a contractor.

DeCloet was the Norfolk County appointee on the Long Point Region Conservation Authority from 1984 to 1996 and was chairman for four years.

While he was chairman, the authority gave property in Waterford to Camp Trillium. This was also when the province made cuts to conservation authorities and changed the way they operated. DeCloet oversaw the challenge of adjusting to the financial changes, partly through better management of the authority forests.

DeCloet’s contributions were recognized by the conservation authority when he received the Conservationist of the Year award this year.

As a member of the Ontario Forestry Association, DeCloet was recognized with the Tree Farmer award in 2005. He is a member of the Norfolk Woodlot Owners Association and a past trustee with Trees Ontario.

On the Lions side, DeCloet was presented the Melvin Jones Fellow in 2012, one of Lions’ highest honours, and was recognized for his tree planting by Lions International. He is a 41-year member of Lions International, and his wife Josiane is a Lions member also.

As a member of the Ontario Forestry Association, Paul was recognized with the Tree Farmer award. He is a member of the Norfolk Woodlot Owners Association and a past trustee with Trees Ontario.

DeCloet’s forest near Cultus became one of his pet projects. In 1980, there were eight tulip trees there. From those, he propagated hundreds that are planted on his property and others. Last year he donated the 50-hectare property to Norfolk County and it was named the Paul DeCloet Forest. It is now recognized as a Significant Natural Site in Norfolk County’s official plan.

And with all of years of experience, DeCloet did have some advice for those planting trees. He tries to keep other species away when the tree is smaller. In the first year, he tries to water it, especially in dry years. And if the tree is planted in the wild, he ensures invasives or wild grape vines don’t overtake the tree.

“Planting a tree is the beginning, not the end,” he said. 

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