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    Categories: Environment

Environment File

REEP roars back

A local Batchelor has stepped up to champion St. Albert’s river edge enhancement program.

The environmental advisory committee (EAC) recommended the city continue to support the River Edge Enhancement Project at a meeting Thursday.

Started in 2005, the project, known as REEP, aims to bring more birds to the Sturgeon River valley by planting vegetation near its shores. Three experimental plots have been created, along with a large bird feeder near the St. Albert Centre pedestrian bridge.

The program went on hiatus this year for evaluation, and has been mostly leaderless since its champion, Dan Stoker, stepped down earlier this year.

Now Nicholas Batchelor, a local naturalist and founding member of the EAC, has volunteered to take over.

“It’s one of the few activities that’s driven by the community and supported by the city instead of the other way around,” he says. “It’s too important an initiative to allow it to go away.”

The program has been very successful in terms of community engagement, Batchelor says, but less so when it comes to biodiversity. “The mortality rate of the small saplings has been very high,” he says, as they’ve been outcompeted by weeds. With the exception of the Barrymore Flats plot (the one with the feeder), the plots have not grown well and have not attracted many birds.

But the program is still a success, says EAC member Carol Newton. It has created wildlife habitat, reduced shore erosion and reduced the need for mowing, she said. “It’s not just aesthetic enhancement.”

The committee recommended the city track which species survived best in REEP regions, and consider new plantings east of Boudreau Road and west of the trestle bridge.

This year’s planting will be rolled into the Spruce Up the Sturgeon event, Batchelor says, scheduled for May 16. They plan to use much larger plants this time, and will water them for a year to help them get established. “We’re absolutely anticipating success.”

REEP is typically funded by grants from local businesses and the city.

Eco-grants tweaked

Ecologists will now have just one shot a year to get an eco-grant from the city.

The EAC recommended several changes to the environmental initiatives grant program at its meeting this week.

The fund will now have just one application period — October — instead of two, says chair Jason Cooke. The committee has been thinking about this change for years, he notes (in part due to a shortage of applicants), as it’s easier to give out the grants in one chunk than two.

The revised fund now explicitly states that it will not cover landscaping and non-native plants. “While those things can be environmentally beneficial,” Cooke says, “there has to be a larger level of environmental stewardship demonstrated” — using native plants in landscaping, for example. The revisions also require (rather than suggest) applicants to contact the office of the environment prior to submitting their grant to make sure they are eligible.

The fund has otherwise done very well, Cooke says. “This is an excellent program that has been embraced by the community.”

The proposed changes go before council at a future date.

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