NAIT plant study gets funding


City awards 10 grants for environmental projects

A recent environmental grant should help local students learn more about plants, says a local researcher, and could help the city save money on gardening.

City council unanimously approved $22,219.90 worth of Environmental Initiatives Grants on Monday. The grants, 10 in all, are meant to support community projects that back the city’s environmental goals, and are administered by the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC).

Ă©cole Muriel Martin got the biggest grant, says a report to council, netting $5,000 to build a greenhouse, wildlife shelters, and three raised vegetable gardens as part of an outdoor community classroom. Elmer S. Gish School got the smallest, at $92.40, to buy recycling bins.

One of the more unusual grants was a $4,800 award to the Northern Alberta Institute for Technology’s (NAIT) Sturgeon River Research Project. This cash will have local high school students take part in an ongoing study of the city’s naturalization areas to determine what trees and shrubs the city should plant.

The city takes a bit of a shotgun approach when it comes to plantings, said Joël Gervais, lead researcher on this study, and tends to put in a wide variety of species into its naturalization areas.

Previous research done by NAIT on the River Edge Enhancement Project (REEP) suggests that, in some cases, about 65 per cent of these plantings die within a year, Gervais said, meaning that the city could be losing about $65 of every $100 of plants it placed.

Gervais said he was now working with students at Paul Kane to do more research on what plants grow best in St. Albert. Next spring, the students, possibly joined by ones from other local high schools, will survey three to four student, city and REEP-created naturalization sites that were planted this year to see what species survived the winter.

Gervais hopes this study will give students hands-on experience with environmental science and give the city a flow-chart showing staff what plants to plant. “They could pick from those species, plant all those species and hopefully have a higher survival rate.” That would save the city money on plant loss in naturalization areas and potentially enhance erosion and weed control.

It’s great for students to go out and plant trees, said city environmental manager Leah Jackson, in regards to this grant, but even better for them to check out those trees later. “It turns it into a learning experience,” she said. “They go back, they monitor it, and they see what difference they made.”

Council also awarded grants to local schools to build bat houses, plant trees and grow indoor gardens. Paul Kane got $2,000 to install an easy-fill drinking fountain to encourage students to drink tap water from reuseable water bottles.

J.J. Nearing Elementary got $1,500 to travel to other schools and promote the organics recycling program they piloted last year. The funds would help the school create a video of their experience with the program, Jackson said, and let them talk about it with other schools using Skype.

Conspicuously absent from this year’s round of grant recipients was the St. Albert Christmas Bird Count, which has applied for and received Environmental Initiatives Grants since the city started giving them out in 2007.

The count used to use the grant to cover printing costs and a fee charged by Bird Studies Canada, said count co-ordinator Alan Hingston. Since Bird Studies Canada dropped that fee this year, and Edmonton’s Wild Birds Unlimited store agreed to cover the count’s printing costs, the count didn’t need a grant, and he withdrew his request for one.

Hingston thanked the city for its many years of support. “I’ve been very appreciative of the funding I have received in the past.”

Details on this year’s grants can be found in the minutes of the Nov. 26 council meeting on the city’s website. The next round of grants goes out in October 2013.


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.