Biochar: Where Science meets Art.

I love good music and respect those that know how to make it happen. The right instrument in the hands of a talented musician is simply beautiful. The same cannot be said when a poorly tuned instrument or no musical aptitude arrives on stage.

The production of a musical work of art has many similarities to sector-leading land reclamation solutions in the Boreal Forest. As much of an art as it is a science, the best forestland reclamation happens when competent and creative thinking consultants are paired with the right tools and empowered to succeed. Land reclamation consultants use numerous instruments in the completion of tasks, calling upon all sorts of devices to diagnose and resolve environmental deficiencies. Over the past decades, the variety and complexity of a consultant’s suite of accessories have broadened, beyond clipboards, write-on-rain paper, and pencils, to any combination of data loggers, laptops, sampling equipment and methods, and cameras, to name just a few. So like the musician and their instrument, when the environmental professional and their gadgets are properly paired, the results are bound to impress!

To properly play their instruments both the musician and the forestland consultant have to work hard to grow their talents. For most people, this does not happen overnight. It takes time, education, practice, and a lot of perseverance. When done well this dedication not only produces the confidence and competencies to perform well but its results can be relied upon to deliver the outcomes the audience has paid to see.

At the SustainTech 2022 Conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Deanna van Muyen shared Reclaimit’s learnings in the application of biochar to restore soil after an industrial disturbance. Biochar is a 2000-year-old solution borne out of the land management practices of the Indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. When properly understood and correctly applied, biochar has a useful application in a North American context. For Reclaimit that means its proper use in the restoration of forestland ecosystems after an industrial disturbance.

Sample of reclaimed growing medium, where subsoil is amended with biochar

Sample of reclaimed growing medium, where subsoil is amended with biochar. Black layer in the top of the core comprises inoculated biochar and newly forming soil. Development after 3 growing seasons, Boreal Forest reclamation site, Saskatchewan, Canada, 2021.

Thanks to the support of Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Reclaimit’s research demonstrated that when correctly used, biochar is another viable tool in the company’s environmental solution tool kit. But just like a musical instrument or digital technology needs to be tuned, biochar’s parameters for proper application need to be established. Not all biochar is alike, and its uses continue to be discovered. Thus, for the Reclaimit consultancy, the use of biochar as a part of forestland reclamation solutions is just beginning. New and exciting discoveries lie ahead!

Check out the highlights of biochar’s relevance in the Boreal Forest reclamation business published in the Western Producer.

Have a question about my blog articles, reclamation services, or have a forestry-related question? Click here to drop me an email!

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Innovative, ecological reclamation work empowering a better Saskatchewan through sustainability

Reclaimit, AirTerra, Sask Polytech teamed up in 2019 to find innovative ways to improve Saskatchewan’s soil and land. Below is the article written in collaboration with the companies and Sask Polytech. It can be read in full here, or on Sask Polytech’s site.

Collaborative, three-year applied research project uncovers unexpected results and provides student research experience.

A Saskatchewan Polytechnic applied research project that was scheduled to last 10 weeks but instead expanded into a three-year project could lead to better soil across the prairies, including in the oilsands region where new tree growth is difficult.

“Project longevity yields rewards,” says David Halstead, professional biologist and research chair, School of Natural Resources and Built Environment. “This soil reclamation project resulted in two great collaborations with industry partners, Reclaimit and Airterra, provided applied research experience for several students, and resulted in very meaningful and unexpected project results. After three growth seasons we were able to create soil from what was originally nothing but sand and gravel.”

The project launched in the summer of 2019 when Halstead was approached by Reclaimit, a company focused on forest and land restoration, for assistance with a soil reclamation project.

Reclaimit had recently conducted a soil reclamation trial on their own with very poor results. Andrew Carpenter, president of Reclaimit, came across the Hannin Creek Education and Applied Research Centre online, and reached out to Halstead for assistance.

“Our project with sandy soil was a failure and I wasn’t satisfied with the results,” says Carpenter. “I realized we needed more horsepower. I wanted to work with someone who had experience with the ecosystem and environment I work with. That’s where Sask Polytech comes in.”

A sandy gravel pit close to the Hannin Creek Centre at Candle Lake was chosen as the applied research site. The gravel pit mimicked northern oilsands deposits. A total of 600 seedlings were arranged in blocks with experimental treatments consisting of five different soil amendments including peat, fertilizer, hydro mulch, biochar and controls. In addition, woody debris, mycorrhiza, and both woody debris and mycorrhiza were added as secondary treatments. The applied research project was run for 10 weeks in the summer of 2019. The initial project was funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

“Dave and his applied research team are really good listeners, they ask great questions and work very, very hard,” shares Carpenter. “I had to invest some of my own money along with the NSERC grant Sask Polytech applied for. When you are a small business and investing your own money into a research project, it’s rewarding to work with a team that is as excited about the research as you are.”

Although the initial project was short (one growing season), biochar was showing some very promising results. Biochar is pure carbon, a unique form of charcoal. The project was continued in 2020 with a focus on biochar as the key element supplied by Airterra. This project was funded by the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).

Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic.

Working with Airterra, student researchers looked at different ways of treating the biochar. Sask Polytech came up with recipes to inoculate the biochar with organic material and informed Airterra and Reclaimit staff on how to prepare the biochar with organic material before adding to the test plots.

“This was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate a novel method of soil reclamation using a product that could potentially be highly beneficial for soil reclamation,” says Rob Lavoie, president and CEO of Airterra. “We are the first company to register a biochar soil product for use in Canada. We are excited to be a part of this innovative project.”

Sask Polytech found using biochar encourages a healthy soil microbiology and helps soil hold onto nutrients and moisture much longer.

Long term research that follows the trajectory of soil reclamation projects is extremely rare, so it was imperative to solicit funding for one more year. Fortunately, NRC-IRAP recognized the value of this opportunity and permitted Reclaimit to acquire a final year of growth and soil composition data in combination with Sask Polytech.

“After three years, we couldn’t believe the extent of the growth on some of the plots, the soil was showing high biodiversity. Trees were growing well, with some even sporting open pine cones,” says Halstead.

“Sask Polytech’s applied research team is helping us come up with real solutions for real problems. The goal of this project isn’t to plant trees in gravel pits. The health of a tree is only an indicator of what’s happening below the surface,” says Carpenter. “The goal is to fix the fundamental issue, which is to repair the broken soil. We need to restore the potential for the soil to heal itself. The results of this project are helping us work towards this important goal.”

Both ReclaimIt and Airterra agree working with Sask Polytech has been a great experience.

“We were blown away by Dave’s attention to detail,” says Lavoie. “Dave was highly instrumental in making the project a success from a funding perspective, students doing field work and promoting the methodology to the industry. We would love to work with Dave and Sask Polytech again in the future.”

“We could not have gotten to this position without the support of Sask Polytech,” says Carpenter. “Dave’s team is passionate, approachable, available and open to trying new things. They are very hard workers.”

Carpenter adds, “The results of this applied research project demonstrate credibility for my company. When I’m working with clients I am not simply sharing the scientific data, but my excitement about the many solutions that are being revealed due to the collaborative success of Reclaimit, Airterra and Sask Polytech.”

To learn more, visit saskpolytech.ca/research.

Managing Those Leftovers – Successful Completion of Another Boreal Forest Reclamation Project.

Reflecting on Managing Those Leftovers from a Successful Completion of Another Boreal Forest Reclamation Project

September saw Reclaimit’s team of champions (😊) – Windfirm Resources Inc., Phoenix Heli-flight, and Boreal Horticultural Services – take on and successfully complete another Boreal Forest reclamation project. The 23 km of legacy seismic lines in northeastern Alberta were reclaimed to the forest as a part of the MEG Energy Inc. habitat reclamation program for Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou)

The 2021 program was a mixed bag of odds and ends, and the little bits and pieces of those not yet completed features from past operations. And now into October, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on what was accomplished. The kind of reflecting best undertaken in a sitting room with a piece of pumpkin pie and a cup of fresh coffee; where the mind wanders between what was completed on the project and how I dealt with the leftovers.  

Now I know that without proper care of the after-dinner turkey remnants I will lose out on the most prized of delicacies for days 2 and 3, the hot turkey sandwich. And just like proper turkey handling results in the turkey sandwich goodness, so too does finishing off leftovers from the previous caribou reclamation programs capture the full benefits of the applied remedies. It’s that diligent commitment, the follow-through to finish well. 

 

Woodland caribou as it dashes down an untreated legacy seismic line, October 15, 2021

So, whether your leftovers are for turkey sandwiches or wildlife habitat restoration, handling them correctly, from start to finish, is a proven deliverer of successAnd on that note, it’s time for a turkey nap 

 

Have a question about my blog articles, reclamation services, or have a forestry-related question? Click here to drop me an email! 

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A Quick Fix & the Surprise

Proper reclamation of the boreal forest is rarely a quick fix. In fact, the best outcomes take time if they are ecologically aligned, industry-leading, regulatory approved, and socially acceptable. That’s a tall order to deliver. It’s one that demands program-supporting projects that are well thought out, properly executed, and based upon a clear understanding of the dependencies an effective remedy recommendation will require. And that’s why Reclaimit consultants rarely pull the quick fix tool from their suite of solutions to restore a disturbed forestland site. The quick-fix solution is high risk. Yes, high risk.

Notice the tall spruce tree in the top right of the photo as a reference point in both before and after photos.

How is a quick-fix solution high risk?

Well, it’s the quick fix that hides an assortment of shortcuts. That beeline to the finish, when truly understood, has baggage that includes a variety of long-term and debt-laden commitments. Like the outcomes arising from a quick-fix solution applied by another service team on a Reclaimit project site in 2015. Within days of Reclaimit completing a well-planned and executed reforestation solution, the other service company then implemented an intentional seeding of the reclaimed site using a seemingly less expensive native grass seed mixture to save on costs. Sounds great, right? After all, the seed and its application were cheap to source and apply, and savings are always good.

Notice the tall spruce tree in the top right of the photo as a reference point in both before and after photos.

As seen in July 2021, the grasses are well established, making the site completely green. And they complement Reclaimit’s suite of ecologically aligned native plants; that Boreal forest-friendly mixture of Picea glauca (white spruce), Populus balsamifera (balsam poplar), Betula papyrifera (white birch), Alnus viridis (green alder) and Salix spp. So, what’s the issue?

Well, Reclaimit’s original solution would have met the reclamation criteria for plant diversity, coverage, and health by the end of 2017. A mere 2 years after treatment. Meeting that benchmark would have meant that the liability would have been considered addressed, eligible for return to the regulator, and fully ending the proponent’s financial and environmental responsibilities at the location. The application by another service provider never should have occurred on this lot, however, due to a lack of internal communication in the company that contracted Reclaimit, one of the stakeholders in the company made a judgement call that they thought would save on costs.

SURPRISE! The Quick-fix solution actually costs more.

As luck would have it, during the application of the native grass seed mixture, a few tiny weed seeds that found their way into that seed lot also became established. And now they need to be controlled annually until eliminated for the location to be considered eligible for a liability release.

Although the applied seed was likely certified, this applies only to genetic purity and has nothing to do with the presence or absence of weed seed in an applied mix. “Canada No. 1” or “certified seed”. – only guarantees the variety (genetic) purity, – but NOT that the seed is weed-free!!!. REFERENCE: https://www.alberta.ca/assets/documents/aep-weed-awareness.pdf (SLIDE #31)

So, a return in 2022 to respray the site is on the books, and if successful will make the site release-ready in 2023, a full 8 years after the quick fix. And if not, another spray project will be on the books.

Thinking beyond the quick fix, it’s how Reclaimit consultants practice forestland reclamation and successfully deliver ecologically compatible and financially justifiable solutions.  Have a question about my blog articles, reclamation services, or any forestry-related questions? Click here to drop me an email!

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A Consultant’s Reflections

As a forest land reclamation consultant, I seek a variety of ways to grow my value as a legitimate problem solver in the remediation of environmental issues in the Boreal Forest. One way I do that is to seek opportunities to confirm my knowledge and challenge my biases. Often, I peer over the fence into other resource management disciplines, to have a look at what they’re doing and see if there might be some ideas to be gleaned. This past June and early July I did just that when I decided to revisit the Canadian forestry sector, once my home for employment, to see how it [and I] changed since 2003. I stepped back almost 30 years, to my formative days of work in the Boreal Forest, to take on the short-term role as a field worker. And it turned out to be a golden opportunity, providing me with a chance to revisit project assignments through the eyes of a boots-on-the-ground worker.

The job of a forest land labourer is not an easy one because of the many responsibilities associated with the role. For example, field workers are tasked with adherence to legal and corporate standards, expected to make and take responsibility for field decisions, compelled to find and field mark features that require protection, and relied upon to supply recommendations around attributes that should be removed from the project scope. This job is not for the faint of heart, as shown in their physical stamina, persistence, and critical thinking skills. The forest worker is expected to complete assignments in a safe, correct, and cost-effective manner while dealing with adverse weather, rugged terrain, poor access, dangerous wildlife, and incessant flies. They are a dedicated group of people.

 

A consultant's reflection on leadership in the forestry industry
While fulfilling the forestry labourer role I had an opportunity to reflect upon how my leadership within Reclaimit projects both removes and creates performance affecting obstacles. And I came up with three items for continuous improvement in my leadership role. First, it takes more time to complete tasks when the commitment to regulatory and customer standards of performance are taken seriously. On one hand, these requirements are in place to prevent an incident, like an accident or negative environmental impact, but on the other hand, they can be considered obstacles to greater productivity because they are time-consuming and reduce production. Human nature is to take the easy route, the path of least resistance. So, upon reflection, the opportunity for me is to work harder when setting up a project to ensure that selected performance measures are truly needed and that they are properly accounted for in the design.

Second, work in the forest is tough. There is no way around it and good physical stamina is essential. Therefore, it is critically important to ensure the workers receive tools that work, plans can be efficiently executed, and there is reliable access to adequate nutrition, hydration, and rest.

And third, it is incumbent upon me as a designer of projects to ensure that the goals remain realistic. Forgetting, disregarding, or overlooking this will set the fieldworker up for failure because they will be unable to deliver a final product that is incident and accident-free, the quality will not be met, or the cost will be neither dependable nor sustainable.

So, the work was good, and I will be back. More themes remain for me to revisit, and many more new ideas await my discovery as I explore the exciting world of Reclaimit’s forest remediation and reclamation services, and travel across the provinces of Canada and around the world in project-related adventures. Have a question about my blog articles, reclamation services, or have a forestry-related question? Click here to drop me an email!

 

Did you like this article? You may also like Saturday Science – A lad and his sticks

Saturday Science – A lad and his sticks

So, what does an 8-year-old lad and 50-year-old forest land restoration professional like to do on a Saturday afternoon? Answer: avoid chores and play with sticks.

As a lad, I would spend long durations outside, entertaining myself in an endless effort to avoid household tasks. During those days, I did not have electronic toys nor the means to participate in organized sports, so I would spend time exploring, usually with my trusted field tool, an old stick. As the years passed, I became creative with my time, and learned a lot during the associated adventures, frequently just in the survival of the should have… and could have… type of events. Nonetheless, one of the greatest gifts I developed during that time was my creativity, fostered when one had to make do with what one has.

And it was the resourceful lad inside the professional forester that re-emerged on a Saturday morning this past April. Once again playing with sticks – this time alive but dormant – I wanted them to grow. And because balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) tree clippings can sprout roots from the stem, this would be a rapid way to test my idea for a homemade growing medium. To be clear, I am not interested in developing a nursery business, garnering a plant collection project, or even tabulating and publishing the findings in a professional Journal. No, I am just curious.

So, how does this story link to the practice of forestland reclamation? Simple, yet complex. Canada’s Boreal Forest has a long list of environmental liabilities awaiting a solution. By attempting new ideas, with a vision that is held in proper tension with the risk of failure, land restoration breakthroughs will inevitably result. I discovered over the years that despite the risk of disappointment, some of the very best Reclaimit-led forestland reclamation solutions were born out of defeat. As a natural resource professional, I would rather face the consequences of defeat after an honest attempt, than settle for a status quo built upon a foundation of fear, complacency, and arrogance. And so, I will continue to play with sticks, staring failure in the face, for an opportunity to uncover more of the yet to be discovered.

 More themes remain for me to revisit, and many more new ideas await my discovery as I explore the exciting world of Reclaimit’s forest remediation and reclamation services, and travel across the provinces of Canada and around the world in project-related adventures. Have a question about my blog articles, reclamation services, or have a forestry-related question? Click here to drop me an email!

 

Did you like this article? You may also like Partnerships of Gold

Partnerships of Gold

When you need a Gold Standard Partner

Have you ever gone alone on a long road trip to a new destination? I have. And the solo venture, as compared to one with some travel buddies, is rarely as exciting as it could be. When I travel by myself, not only is there an absence of conversation in the car, but the trip seems longer, lonesome, and often boring. A journey with friends is my preferred way to travel.

Reclaimit’s reclamation adventures with its service partners are just like a road trip with good companions. Making the expedition more interesting, they join us on our quest to be the industry-leading provider of forestland reclamation solutions. Our carefully vetted and selected partners are some of the best service teams that the marketplace can offer up!

Who do you call?

Reclaimit’s support teams are comprised of industry-leading personnel. These are the people that provide the specialized skills and support infrastructure we rely upon. They are the folks that make the difference in program results, the partners that provide the extra push needed to elevate Reclaimit’s performance outcomes from an adequate to an outperform status. Be they from another consultancy, commercial nursery provider, specialized labour team, or firm that provides a niche product to address a site-specific ecological deficiency, these Partnerships of Gold make into reality the forestland reclamation commitments that Reclaimit is known for and trusted to deliver.

So, whenever the opportunity arises to say a good word about our support network, we do. And this is a place to showcase our vendors of choice, those that receive the first call to support a Reclaimit sanctioned environmental reclamation solution. Therefore, it is with our wholehearted endorsement, backed up by our longstanding business reputation, that we encourage other environmental consultants, environmental service companies, and general contractors to reference our Partners page to learn more about them. And if you decide to give them a call, let them know you heard it from Reclaimit!

More themes remain for me to revisit, and many more new ideas await my discovery as I explore the exciting world of Reclaimit’sforest remediation and reclamation services, and travel across the provinces of Canada and around the world in project-related adventures. Have a question about my blog articles, reclamation services, or have a forestry-related question? Click here to drop me an email!

 

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Field Equipment Breakdown?? Call a … Millennial?!?

Last month, when finishing the final portions of reconnaissance for a proponent-sponsored Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) Habitat Reclamation project, we ran into some mechanical issues with one of our snowmobiles. Now, let me start by admitting, without apology, that I do not have any mechanical abilities. None. Not a skill, aptitude nor the interest. So, when a mechanical challenge arises with any equipment my first option is to deny that there is a problem. Then, when that does not work and I can no longer ignore the uncomfortable reality, look for a way to delay addressing it. And should that fail, which it always does, admit the need for help

This mild winter day (-15o C) we are 25 km from the truck via ice road and legacy seismic lines, and spring break up is just around the corner. In short order, I’m quietly strategizing how to do an equipment salvage mission later in the year. And then it happens, my Millennial Mechanics arrive proclaiming, “We have cellular service!!”

 

The next thing I know, a YouTube© video is playing and the problem snowmobile is being disassembled for diagnosis. So, this Gen-X Forestland Consultant assumes his highest value leadership positions to support the team: sit, watch, smile, enjoy a snack, and remain silent

And what happens next? In short order the problem is identified, issue addressed, engine parts reassembled and the motor is… running!  I think it had something to do with the fuel and air intake?! 🤔 🤣 So, with the engine now operating, we opt to demobilize the unreliable unit back to staging, and safely finish the simplest to access candidate sites with the remaining tools on hand and final daylight hours at our disposal

Although the final day of project reconnaissance was not as efficient as I was hoping it would be, because we ended up deferring some final pieces of difficult to access seismic lines for an assessment later in the season, we safely viewed the linear features that we could without compromising safe work and product quality commitments. It was a good project finish, within the approved scope of work, and a gentle reminder to me of why I love teamwork. Simply, some of my very best experiences working in the forest take place when I allow space for others to contribute, rather than be intimidated by their ideas and strengths

The team dinner that evening was nice…

More themes remain for me to revisit, and many more new ideas await my discovery as I explore the exciting world of Reclaimit’sforest remediation and reclamation services, and travel across the provinces of Canada and around the world in project-related adventures. Have a question about my blog articles, reclamation services, or have a forestry-related question? Click here to drop me an email!

 

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Forest Land Reconnaissance – For Caribou Habitat Restoration

Time for a break! Despite the glare of the sun in my eyes on this mild 150 C winter afternoon, this is one forester that is equally savouring the warm sun as much as his favourite Cliff Bar©. A short respite with the sun’s warmth and a snack is a welcome friend after facing the cold 250 C (plus windchill) a few days earlier. It is March 2, 2021, the end of a stretch of bitterly cold weather, and the wrapping up of field reconnaissance for another linear feature (I.e., legacy seismic line) reclamation project.

This forest reclamation project is meant to remedy a persistent line-of-sight condition that exists on many legacy resource exploration lines within the range of the Boreal Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou). Why is that a problem? Well, the open exploration lines, frequently defined by long stretches of unimpeded lines-of-sight that remain open, sometimes for several decades after their development, act as travel corridors for the caribou and its primary predators, the wolf (Canis lupus) and black bear (Ursus americanus). Consequently, the caribou population has seen a significant decline because of predation (among other reasons)

The solution in this case? Reclamation of legacy seismic line sites, once occupied by native forest, to an equally matching forest ecosystem that restores the natural and contiguous nature of the boreal forest. Viewed as an important step forward in the recovery of the woodland caribou, it is meant to rectify the competitive advantage enjoyed by the predators within their range by levelling the playing field. In this example, the area just to the northeast of Wandering River is targeted to restore approximately 30 km2 of forest

Although another crew working in the area did see a caribou prior to our arrival we did not. However, we did identify a single set of fresh tracks in the snow. So, what is the Reclaimit Ltd. end game? How do we measure success in this project? Simply stated but not easily achieved, by providing the right types of habitat renovations and using a sustainable suite of solutions that will promote the potential of an accelerated ecological restoration. Doing this effectively will establish the potential for a greater number of woodland caribou to call this area home in the winters to come

An update will come after the Summer 2021 project implementation is complete…

More themes remain for me to revisit, and many more new ideas await my discovery as I explore the exciting world of Reclaimit’sforest remediation and reclamation services, and travel across the provinces of Canada and around the world in project-related adventures. Have a question about my blog articles, reclamation services, or have a forestry-related question? Click here to drop me an email!

 

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Be creative, and get problems solved

Thanks to children I witnessed playing near the community of Vaudreuil, Haiti when I was there in 2016, I was reminded that being creative when presented with a problem is of great value. For the children I was observing, their problem was the pursuit of amusement: seeking a toboggan experience in an environment lacking both sled and snow. So how did they solve it? They simply found a large piece of bark and a soil-exposed slope (in various stages of water saturation) and start sledding.  Pwoblèm rezoud!!

In western Canada, the business of boreal forest reclamation in a remote setting offers innumerable opportunities for reclamation professionals to be creative. So, three weeks after returning from Haiti, I opted to establish a snow cache using a shovel and fresh snow to provide temporary shelter for our dormant seedlings. That’s right, use the snow to keep the seedlings warm!! The snow cache application in the 2016 Caribou Reclamation Program for MEG Energy Inc. allowed us to use snow’s insulating properties and effectively protect our seedlings from some seriously cold nights (-38o C)!  And yes, when properly applied, this application works quite nicely. Another reliable tool used by Reclaimit to successfully achieve forestland reclamation in a remote forest setting 😊

More themes remain for me to revisit, and many more new ideas await my discovery as I explore the exciting world of Reclaimit’sforest remediation and reclamation services, and travel across the provinces of Canada and around the world in project-related adventures. Have a question about my blog articles, reclamation services, or have a forestry-related question? Click here to drop me an email!

 

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