Semi-Arid Boreal Forest Reclamation: Traditional Solutions Need Not Apply

Arid land is only in the tropics, right? That is what I thought too! Until I went to tackle a program in northwestern Saskatchewan, Canada. Arriving in the region for the first time showed me that this area was like no other that I had worked in for the past 30 years. Found within the southernmost reach of the Athabasca Plains ecological region and hovering just north of 58’ North Latitude, the former oil sands development site was in need of some new-found respect in order to properly apply a forestland restoration solution that would work.

The region is dominated with boreal forest, stewarding jack pine forest as far as the eye can see, growing on top of glacial till, sandy soils, and former sand dunes. Annual rainfall is in the order of 400 to 500 millimeters per year; making this an arid region if it were not for the seven months of winter induced dormancy.  The simple solution, one that would require no thinking on my part and provide an obvious excuse for poor reclamation performance, was to plant the site using a standard silvicultural solution for this part of the world. Then, when the results were poor, I could deflect responsibility. Of course, after having taken the time to prepare the client for the probable outcome and to spend additional money on rework.

Figure 1. Site status 5 years after applying a standard reforestation method for comparative purposes. Monitor visit in summer 2019.

The riskier approach, the kind that I relish, was to solve the problem. To do this I needed to further develop the tool kit that I use to solve client problems. So, I researched and found some applicable context, in the tropics! That’s right, the tropics. Finding the right exposure to tropical agriculture (Florida) and arid land silviculture (South Africa), and using it in combination with my work history in Canada’s only Mediterranean climate, southeast Vancouver Island, readied me to put a tropical management paradigm into a cold northern context.

Figure 2. Site status 5 years after applying a tropical management paradigm, retro-tooled for a northern climate. Monitor visit in summer 2019.

And it worked! Success!!  After rigorously pursuing the right solution and witnessing the performance difference the solution has since been applied on 100+ sites possessing similar ecological conditions. The client has benefitted from a 100+ cost effective and defensible liability closures. And the Reclaimit tool kit to supply forestland reclamation solutions? It continues to grow.