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…

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…

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 😊

Local Solution: Global Reach

The other day I was conducting some online research and I came across a photograph that I recognized; it was me! So, I downloaded the document and did a little search on my end to see if I was correct, and this is what I found. A picture taken on a project back in 2009. This photograph, likely taken by my friend and respected professional, Rob Gray, was of work undertaken to re-establish native plants within a small riparian area impacted by the installation of a natural gas pipeline the previous winter.

After a quick search of the source, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) https://www.wbcsd.org/Overview/About-us , it turns out that the WBSCD has a broad reach.  The WBCSD is a global, CEO-led organization of over 200 leading businesses working together to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world. And this project proponent, Shell Energy, is a member.

So, did the environmental mitigation work? Yes, this site was a part of a larger project led by the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) https://www.unbc.ca/

And the methodology? Bioengineering. A natural environmental solution that is simple, proven, and immediately applicable. The training method is provided by the respected environmental professional, David Polster https://ca.linkedin.com/in/david-polster-417a4016.

Now, if you would like to have a look at the article for yourself and confirm my photograph assertion, reference the case study (https://www.naturalinfrastructureforbusiness.org/portfolio-item/natural-reclamation-and-erosion-control-for-onshore-pipelines/) at the website called Natural Infrastructure for Business (https://www.naturalinfrastructureforbusiness.org/). You might even see the Reclaimit name referenced within it!

So, the summer 2021 plan: go back for another look!

An Infection called ‘Good News’. I think it is time…

I think that good news is contagious. So, how about we collaborate and share some good news by being intentional and strategic? Well, in 2020 I decided to give it a shot and found myself partnered within a group of 5 other private citizens wanting to voice solutions, instead of problems. Together, we strategized and soon met with Alberta’s Environment Minister. And, after being heard, we got some good news!!

Geothermal Energy is nothing new, right? Right. But in our part of the world, we needed help to see it gain some traction. So, our team highlighted the geothermal energy topic by bringing some exposure to the existing and reputable players and encouraging much-needed regulatory support in its development. And the result?!? Alberta’s Bill 36, legislation to remove “red tape’ and create a basis for repurposing infrastructure and skillsets to put people back to work and harvest geothermal energy. Good news!

So, be encouraged to take your conversation beyond the coffee shop. Bring forth the ideas that will help your society, family, and environmental stewardship. There is no better time than now to gain an attentive listener! It is about time for a new contagion: Good News! Let it reign in 2021!!

No Harm Occurs in Forestland Environmental Reclamation, Right? Wrong?

The end goal in proper environmental reclamation in the forest is to undo damage to the ecosystem and replace it with something good. And I can do this without creating environmental harm, right? Wrong.

This month an obvious, yet often overlooked question was posed to me by a 10-year-old girl during an online presentation to children ranging from grades 4 to 6. While listening to my stories related to working in the forest the child asked, “when you are working, does your job ever hurt small birds?”  Now, as a dad, I am used to hearing such questions and have never felt uncomfortable in my response, “sometimes to do good, you create a little bit of harm”. Now, do I like that reality? No. Is it the truth? Yes.

So here is what I said to the child, “When I work in the forest, I try to make sure that I am not hurting small animals so this is what I do.

    • First, I make sure that I know the land and the types of animals that live there, the ones that live there for a short time and the ones that live there all year. To do that I need to collect information about the site and start talking with people that know a lot more than me about the site and its animals.
    • After talking to them I start to develop a plan to fix the site in a way that does not hurt the animals, get permission from the owners to do the work, and make sure I follow the law.

Now, to answer your question directly, this past season we changed our project start date by three weeks because of small birds. Why? Well, we needed to cut down some small trees that, at that time of year, sometimes have small bird nests on the branches. So, what we did is we waited until the bird eggs hatched and the baby ones flew away. After they left, we went in and did our work. Now, is it possible that we missed a nest or a bird? Yes. Why? Because the forest is huge, birds hide their nests in the branches, and it is impossible to be perfect. But we did follow the government rules and did our own check of the trees before we cut them down. What that means is this, when we were trying to fix the land, we do our absolute best not to hurt birds. Unfortunately, we are not always perfect, but we sure try.”

Although experienced in the art of talking to small children, it was a hard question to answer, because deep down I know that even if I do not intentionally create harm in my actions, it does not mean it has not happened. In the end, I am trying to do the right thing, and sometimes I unknowingly create harm. As a professional, a dad, a neighbour and a respecter of the land, it was a reminder for me to remain sober about the reality that sometimes in the act of doing good, I can create harm. To reduce the potential and consequences of harmful outcomes associated with my activities, I shall remain duly diligent ….

Figure 1. Nighthawk nesting, Axe Lake, Saskatchewan, 2014

How you do it… matters!

Garbage duty on the final field day of the Caribou Reclamation 2020 seismic line reforestation project in Alberta, Canada, completed in support of woodland caribou habitat restoration. This day I walked 23 km through forestland dominated by treed bogs and fens, carrying out the box waste so the real workers could get the job done. And they did! Covering 38 km of line over the project duration, they modelled how to do environmental reclamation services right, the first time, with another accident and incident-free job.

Thank you to MEG Energy Inc., Windfirm Resources Inc., Strongfield Environmental Solutions Inc., Woodmere Nurseries and of course, Phoenix Heli-flight.

And yes, 2 days later and I am still sore. 😁

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.