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160-year plan for white spruce forest revealed

Needs cash, land to fend off invasives and loggers, says committee

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 09, 2014 06:00 am

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St. Albert should double the size of the white spruce forest to ensure the forest’s survival for the next 160 years, a city committee says.

City council received the Grey Nuns White Spruce Forest management plan at its regular meeting Monday.

The plan, in the works since 2012, was developed by a city advisory committee and approved by city manager Patrick Draper last May.

The white spruce forest is a remnant of the original forest that once covered St. Albert prior to settlement. Logs from it were used to build St. Albert’s first homes and Father Albert Lacombe’s first chapel.

Council designated it as a municipal historic resource in 2011 and called for a management plan for it.

The plan’s top priority is the health of the forest, said Margo Brenneis, committee member and the city’s community recreation co-ordinator.

“We want people to be able to use the forest, but we want to protect it and make sure it’s not vulnerable with use,” she told council.

Grow the forest

The committee found that the city had to take at least a 160-year-long view when it comes to managing this forest, said retired forestry professor and committee member Peter Murphy in an interview.

“The trees that we admire so much, the big ones, are between 100 and 150, 160 years old,” he said.

“When we’re planning in the forest, we have to start planning in terms of long time periods.”

Most of the trees in the forest are over 100 years old and nearing the end of their lives, for example, as thick brush is keeping young trees from taking root.

“There’s virtually no young spruce in that area,” Murphy said.

If the city wants the forest to still be around in 160 years, it should expand the forest’s management area east to the old riverlot boundary, west to Ray Gibbon Drive, and south to the Sturgeon River to link it with other forests along the Sturgeon and give young trees more space to grow, the committee found.

This would more than double the size of the park, but could be done without land purchases as this was already city-owned land, Murphy said.

Murphy said the committee recommended that big, paved multiuse trails be limited to the outside of the forest. Within the forest, the city should beef up existing foot-trails with wood chips and boardwalks to limit damage caused by foot traffic.

The committee also envisioned a small parking lot and some picnic tables northwest of the forest.

The committee also flagged ongoing threats to the forest such as invasive caragana plants, vandalism and climate change.

“The big thing is to get citizens to use the park,” Murphy said. More use would mean more eyes on the ground to spot vandals before they struck. Expanding the park would hopefully spread out the impact that people had on it.

The committee recommended that the city start a brush management plan for the park and stomp out caragana plants in it. It also needed to map invasive plants in the region and do more detailed studies on the park’s rare plants and amphibians – projects that could be done through NAIT and the University of Alberta, Brenneis said.

The committee has also gathered enough local seeds to plant about 40,000 trees, Murphy said. The trees should be ready in about three years and could be planted with the aid of grants.

City staff will now figure out the cost of the committee’s recommendations and propose a business case to council by 2016, Brenneis said.

The city plans to hold a public tree planting in the forest this Sept. 21 to celebrate National Tree Day, she added.

Coun. Tim Osborne praised the committee for its work and noted that his kids had been amazed to see a moose in the forest on a recent visit.

“That’s the magic of having a place like that right within city bounds,” he said.

“This isn’t just a bunch of trees ... It is a home for nature within our community.”


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