REEP works, says report

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NAIT study confirms it brings birds to river

A new NAIT study suggests that St. Albert’s river edge enhancement efforts have brought more birds to the Sturgeon.

The city’s Environmental Advisory Committee has received a final draft of the first-ever scientific report on the River Edge Enhancement Project (REEP), done by researchers at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and commissioned by the committee to evaluate the program’s effectiveness after seven years.

Started in 2005, REEP is an ongoing community project meant to bring biodiversity and beauty back to the Sturgeon’s shores by replacing mowed grass with native plants. The project has created five volunteer-planted vegetated plots along the river to date.

NAIT researchers surveyed each REEP site during 2011 to determine what birds were in the area, according to the report. The team identified 37 species, including robins, warblers, merlins and gadwalls, and noted whether they were on the river, the mowed grass, the forest or the REEP plantation.

The report found that the REEP sites all had about 10 more bird species in them than nearby grass or river areas, and were just a little less diverse than nearby forested regions.

This is good news, says REEP spokesperson Nicholas Batchelor, as one of the project’s main goals was to increase the river valley’s biodiversity. “It’s good to know that we don’t just have trees and bushes growing – that they’re attracting diverse species.”

Plants and birds

The REEP sites have definitely improved the river valley’s biodiversity, says Joël Gervais, lead author of the report, especially compared to the mowed grass they replaced.

“You see a lot more birds using the REEP sites.”

But these sites are currently islands with poor connectivity, he notes. His team recommends that these sites be linked with vegetation in the future to help more wildlife move through the river valley.

The NAIT team also surveyed the REEP sites to figure out what plants worked best along the Sturgeon’s shores.

The team found that red-osier dogwood, willow and wild rose were by far the most successful plants. “They almost doubled in numbers,” Gervais notes, with the team finding 175 per cent more willow and dogwood than had been originally planted. This makes sense, he adds, as these are fast growing, pioneer species that are often the first to move into a new area. The team recommended planting more of these plants at future REEP sites in addition to balsam poplar, birch and choke cherry, which also had high survival rates.

Far less successful were the red currant, white spruce, and pin cherry, which had mostly died off. The least successful was the saskatoon, which appeared to have vanished completely.

“Some of the sites have a lot of Canada thistle in them,” Gervais notes, which could have out-competed these plants.

The team also spotted several species that had not been included in the original REEP plantings, such as larch, raspberry and Manitoba maple, a non-native species. These may have been accidentally introduced or added after the REEP events, Gervais says. The team recommended leaving these plants alone, as it would be more harmful to remove them than to leave them.

Future of REEP

The team made recommendations on future sites for REEP, and called on volunteers to keep a close eye on invasive weeds such as Canada thistle. The report will help the REEP team plan for the future and better invest the community’s time and money, Batchelor says.

“We want to make sure we’re investing those resources as well as we can.”

This year’s REEP planting will once again coincide with the annual Clean Up the Sturgeon event on May 13, Batchelor says. The planting will be on the east side of the pedestrian bridge leading to St. Albert Centre around a patch of Manitoba maples. “Manitoba maples are very invasive,” he notes, and the plan is to fence them in with native plants.

All volunteers have to bring is themselves, Batchelor adds.

“We’ll have shovels. We’ll have gloves. We’ll have water. We’ll have watermelon.” They’ll also have about 450 native plants for people to put in the dirt, each with a copper tag they can put their name on. Anyone who chips in $250 gets to plant a big tree instead.

The REEP event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 13 in parallel with Clean Up the Sturgeon. Visit www.stalbert.ca/REEP for details.

Clean up the Sturgeon

REEP planters will get a chance to clean up the Sturgeon this Mother’s Day as part of the city’s annual river cleanup.
About 500 people are expected to come down to the Sturgeon River on May 13 to take part in the 13th annual Clean Up the Sturgeon event.
The event will once again feature an environment fair with 15 exhibitors on hand to teach guests about the Sturgeon, says community recreation co-ordinator Erin Gluck. Volunteers will get a free barbecue lunch. Participants will get bags, gloves and shirts so they can pick up trash on and along the Sturgeon. About 1.15 tonnes of trash was collected last year.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Participants can register online or on-site at St. Albert Place and St. Albert Centre. See www.stalbert.ca/cleanup for details.

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About Author

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.