In the Reclaimit environmental consulting business we work with a variety of workers of different age, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Over the years of my career I became a firm believer that that good work processes enable worker buy-in, resulting in a clear understanding and commitment to adherence by all project participants. And to close that loop, to have useful process, we need verifiable measures of evaluation with functioning feedback and recognition strategies.

In 2018, I was provided a gift from a seasonal worker, Kyle S, a participant in Reclaimit forestland reclamation project work for eight seasons. What Kyle wanted to do was video one of our projects and share a story about the work and me. Kyle was our crew leader for the project and I found his testimonial of the Reclaimit field work philosophy to be a clear understanding of what I have been saying over the years, that how we do our work determines the value of the accomplishment.

The following video is not intended to be a professional presentation. It is a gift given to me that, after careful consideration, I would like to share with you. Perhaps, it will encourage or inspire you. Or, maybe it will make you laugh, and that’s OK too.

Thank you Kyle (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKUiMDQxEU52fsejGArOjFQ) for the story, to the Windfirm Resources team and all past crew members that have worked on Reclaimit’s forestland reclamation projects for the past 18 years, and for believing that how you do your work determines the value of the accomplishment Enjoy!

In fall 2016, Reclaimit president Andrew Carpenter attended ECHO, a tropical agriculture workshop in Florida, where he saw the effects of adding biochar to what was essentially beach sand. The biochar vastly improved the fertility of the sand and allowed the treated area to be used for a highly productive garden. Biochar is created when various feedstocks (wood, agricultural waste, etc.) undergo pyrolysis, or heating in a low oxygen environment. This process creates an extremely porous material that sorbs nutrients, holds water, provides a perfect home for soil microbes and has been shown to permanently improve soil productivity in some conditions. Refer to Eco Community Articles for more information.

Andrew immediately became interested in the potential for this soil additive to improve the reclamation status of large, severely disturbed, sandy sites, such as those that we see at a historical oil sands site Reclaimit is helping to reclaim in northwestern Saskatchewan. Accordingly, Andrew asked Reclaimit ecologist Deanna Van Muyen to devise a trial to field test the effects of biochar amendment on jack pine growth, in addition to a few other treatments. We began installing the trial in the spring of 2017, completing the applications and planting jack pine seedlings in the fall of 2017.

As well as the biochar, we tested both established and novel soil and planting treatments including wood shavings, green manure, peat moss and fertilizer. Altogether, 1000 jack pine seedlings were planted with various amendments in October 2017.

Figure 1. Trial layout prior to seedling planting, October 2017.

Figure 1. Trial layout prior to seedling planting, October 2017.

Results

Unfortunately, a monitoring visit conducted in spring of 2018 revealed that the planted jack pine seedlings had been severely affected by wind erosion and there was apparent widespread mortality. In October 2019 Reclaimit was able to return to the site to collect trial data.

Figure 2. Dead seedlings observed, May 2018.

Figure 2. Dead seedlings observed, May 2018.

Due to high seedling mortality (60%), it was difficult to see definitive patterns in growth response of the jack pine seedlings with respect to the different treatments but we gained some good takeaways about what apparently helped the seedlings survive in these harsh conditions. The simplest solutions, such as the application of peat moss, appeared to work best while those that required surface soil disturbance (biochar, green manure) seemed to exacerbate wind erosion and, consequently, mortality. Further, we found that the plots with more initial natural regeneration had a much better survival than those without. This last point was an anecdotal observation but, along with the other observed results, contributed to a re-evaluation of our prescribed silviculture methods for windswept, sandy sites.

Our investigation of reclamation approaches for sandy sites continues. Watch for updates in future posts!

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.