Sandy Sites Part II – Continuing Research

Reclaimit began field-testing various soil amendments for the restoration of sandy soils in 2017 (See our June 6, 2020 blog post). Widespread mortality caused by the site conditions of the initial trial site plus issues with site access caused Reclaimit president, Andrew Carpenter, to begin thinking about alternative locations for a follow-up trial. During an internet search, he came upon a photo of the Hannin Creek Educational Facility (https://hannincreekcamp.org/) near Candle Lake Provincial Park in Saskatchewan and saw that it is surrounded by a sandy, jack pine forest similar to the forest type characterizing some reclamation challenges we have in northwestern Saskatchewan. The facility is a field school run by Saskatchewan Polytechnic (Sask Poly) (https://saskpolytech.ca/programs-and-courses/programs/Integrated-Resource-Management.aspx). Andrew contacted Research Chair David Halstead at Sask Poly in Prince Albert and this led to the installation of a second trial in June 2019, near the Hannin Creek facility.

The new trial was established in a location that was more sheltered from the wind than the first trial and the treatments were modified based on challenges, learnings and new questions coming out of the first attempt. We repeated applications of biochar, peat moss and fertilizer and added three new treatments: hydromulch (see Figure 1), coarse woody debris, and mycorrhiza inoculant.

The trial was installed, and 600 jack pine seedlings were planted in June 2019 (Figure 2).  The seedlings were measured throughout the summer by Sask Poly summer students and first-year results were analyzed in the fall of 2019.

Figure 1. Hydromulch application, Trial #2, June 2019.

Figure 1. Hydromulch application, Trial #2, June 2019.

 

Figure 2. Trial #2 overview, post-planting, June 2019.

Figure 2. Trial #2 overview, post-planting, June 2019.

Results

Initial results show that jack pine seedling survival was much improved in this second trial.

So far, the woody debris application has yielded the most widespread and reliable positive effects on seedling growth. Seedling growth response has been more moderate for the peat and biochar treatments and there were mixed results for hydromulch and mycorrhiza. The growth response of the seedlings in the fertilizer plots has been poor.  Reclaimit believes that tracking the trial through additional growing years will increase understanding of the effects and interactions of the different treatments. Currently, this trial remains in place at Hannin Creek and monitoring continues.

 

 

Willow in the Wet. Always??

Willow fascines for habitat restoration in a semi-arid and sub-humid boreal forest ecosystem. Does it work?

Over my many years working in the forestlands of Canada I learned that willow (Salix spp.) is a shrubby plant that is associated with wetlands. In the context of my management paradigms, this is a correct and reliable assertion, often supported by wet feet before the end of the day.

Working in northwestern Saskatchewan, in a region dominated by undulating topography, sandy soil, and annual rainfall in the order of 400 to 500 millimeters, my understanding of this important plant presence and dominance was challenged. What I saw was what appeared to be an omnipresent and prolific performing willow, growing in upper and crest of slope areas, in sub-xeric soil moisture conditions and on drastically disturbed sites after industrial development.

Willow bushes growing at the edge

Figure 1. Willow bushes growing at the edge of a drastically disturbed site at the crest of a slope, semi-arid and sub-humid climate

Perhaps, many environmental mitigation solutions are before our eyes? Could they become visible when we are prepared to risk that the understood may be misunderstood? That was the case for me. Upon further investigation and reflection, I realized that properly applied, I could prescribe willow fascines to support soil stability in eroding areas, be it erosion from water or wind. Yes, effectively apply the fascine strategy in a sub-xeric ecosystem, and expect them to live. So, I did just that, and it worked (Figure 2).

And this is why I still go to the field. So much to learn, so little time to learn it!!

 Established willow fascine application

Figure 2. Established willow fascine application in a pure sand microsite, semi-arid, and sub-humid climate.

Seedling Establishment Quality: More than Green Side Up

Seedling establishment for reforestation can be done by anyone. Right?

When reforesting a historic industrial development within a forest land region, the proper re-establishment of native plants is a task that can easily be regarded as a simple, repetitive, and obligatory cost. It is work that anyone with a strong back and high tolerance for the resulting muscle pain can do. How hard can it be to carry a bag of seedlings and a shovel, stop every few meters, bend and plant, green side up?

Proper field execution of any reforestation project is a bit more complex, however. In a rush to get projects completed, work can suffer the pressure of management and implementation systems that are production driven. Problems arise from substandard practices associated with seedling handling, microsite selection, and final establishment techniques. Unfortunately, the results of poor reforestation practices, although inevitable, are often delayed by years, preventing efficient mitigation (See Figures 1 & 2). The result: compromised environmental and financial performance.

Disfigured planted trees

Figure 1. Disfigured planted trees established in 2010, excavated during site inspection, site 153004, 2015

Now, let this not be a reason to discount the importance of production. Au contraire! Meaningful production is fundamental in an economically viable management system! So, how do we make production operate at a maximum level and minimize quality control issues? We return to some basics, where we leave the office, exit the pickup truck, and walk the land (shovel in tow) to inspect and audit the performance of our field teams (microsite placement, seedling selection, waste handling, storage quality, etc.). This requires our most experienced, not least experienced professionals, to make sure that the work indicator of quality is more than Green Side Up, that performance feedback is prompt and that poor quality work does not define what is considered acceptable environmental impact mitigation.

Figure 2. Disfigured planted trees, 10 years post-establishment, site 153004.

 

It’s the How that Matters…

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!

Sandy Sites – How an exploration of soil amendments lead to lessons about wind erosion.

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!

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.