Grants to fund new forest

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Environmental Initiative grant to expand white spruce forest

City council signed off on a grant this week that will add almost 8,000 trees to the city’s oldest forest.

Council authorized $14,324 of Environmental Initiatives Grants Monday. Administered by the Environmental Advisory Committee, these annual grants are meant to help community groups conduct environmental projects.

The Grey Nuns White Spruce Park Working Group received the largest grant at $8,500 for their proposal to re-establish the age class of the white spruce forest using genetically matched seeds from it.

The group’s research has found that there are few if any young trees in this forest, threatening its survival, said Peter Murphy, group member and retired forestry professor. Thick underbrush and invasive species were choking out any seedlings.

The group planted trees in the forest last year and cleared the underbrush around them to see if they could restore its age diversity. While one of the saplings died and deer ate three others, Murphy said the rest appear to be thriving, suggesting that the forest could be re-seeded using this technique.

“The seedlings we planted were ones that were OK for the region but weren’t from the forest,” Murphy said. Seedlings produced by current trees in the forest would have the best genes for this environment.

Working group members collected a bunch of cones from the forest in 2013 and sent them to the Smoky Lake tree nursery to extract the seeds, Murphy said.

That nursery will raise those seeds into 7,800 seedlings, half of which will be planted south of the main block of timber in 2016, Murphy said. The other half will grow for an extra year before being placed inside and in the southwest corner of the forest. These plantings will restore parts of the forest that were converted to farmland and reconnect it to the river valley.

J.J. Nearing Elementary’s Greenilicious Environment Club received $3,000 to create a living wall at the school.

Teacher co-ordinator Phyllis Kelly said she got the idea for the wall after seeing one at a net-zero show-home in Edmonton.

“A living wall is like an indoor garden but it grows upwards,” she explained.

The pliable fabric material of the walls acts as a growth medium for the plants. Plant roots pull water from the bottom of the wall to plants at the top, improving air quality as they grow.

Kelly said she wasn’t sure what shape the wall would take or when it would be complete, as she was still in talks with landscaping companies. She hopes to incorporate native plants into the wall to teach students about the plants of Alberta, as well as historically significant crops such as grain or rhubarb. Edible plants were unlikely, unless they were herbs.

The wall should hopefully be in operation early next year, Kelly said.

Bertha Kennedy Elementary got $1,550 to install a water fountain that can refill water bottles.

The school had a real push earlier this year to get students to bring re-useable water bottles to school as part of its Healthy BobKats campaign, said teacher Dolores Andressen.

But students found that it was tough to fill their bottles using the school’s kid-sized sinks and fountains. A few of them suggested that the school get a special water fountain similar to the one at Servus Credit Union Place that’s shaped to accommodate bottles.

“Healthier students are better learners,” Andressen said, and drinking water is a part of being healthy. This new fountain should encourage students to drink water without using disposable water bottles.

The fountain should be installed by January, Andressen said.

Robert Rundle is getting $444 to do an experiment with bird feeders.

Students will do a bird count in the forest by the school early next year, said teacher Wayne Durksen. They’ll then plant trees and install 10 bird feeders in the forest and do further counts over the years to see how their actions affect winter bird populations.

The 50+ Club also got an $830 grant for labelled waste containers.

Visit stalbert.ca/city-hall/grants/environmental-initiatives-grant-program for more on the grants.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.