H.G. Lawrence property. (Photo by NCC)

H.G. Lawrence property. (Photo by NCC)

Giving nature a helping hand

NCC partner Wild + Pine sprouting innovation for restoration
Tree planters at H.G. Lawrence. (Photo by Wild + Pine)

Tree planters at H.G. Lawrence. (Photo by Wild + Pine)

Nature’s ability to heal is incredible, but sometimes it needs a helping hand to truly recover.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) not only conserves pristine natural areas but also restores lands previously used for other purposes. One place NCC has been working to restore since 2014 is H.G. Lawrence, a 46-hectare property on the northwest shore of Pine Lake, near Red Deer, Alberta.

This land was formerly managed for agriculture, being seeded with non-native grasses and grazed by cattle for decades. For nature take hold there once again, work was needed to reintroduce native trees and shrubs. To help sprout H.G. Lawrence’s ecological restoration, NCC sought a partner with experience guiding lands back to nature.

A reputable restorer

Wild + Pine, an Edmonton-based restoration and climate action company, was up to the task.

After working for over a decade restoring and reclaiming forestry and oil and gas sites, Wild + Pine was expanding to new horizons, including more conservation-focused work, explained Kaitlyn Scaber, the company’s director of projects and sustainability.

“Partnering with NCC was a chance to use our expertise we developed in reclamation for oil and gas, and apply it to the site,” says Kaitlyn.

The partnership was also a chance to showcase the potential of Wild + Pine’s “Bioprism,” an indoor, vertical greenhouse that the company developed to source its own tree and shrub seedlings. This innovative creation now produces up to 150,000 seedlings per year.

A groundbreaking partnership

The partnership between NCC and Wild + Pine came to fruition in 2021, when the company started its work to restore forests on 25 hectares of the H.G. Lawrence property.

Wild + Pine marketed the initiative as “Forest B,” a nature-based climate action project that was ultimately funded by 33 Canadian companies.

“The response was surprising, because it was from companies we had had never worked with before and that had never heard of us, but they liked the opportunity to participate in a sustainability initiative from the ground up,” says Kaitlyn.

First, Wild + Pine used farming equipment to break up the soil. After that, seven veteran tree planters arrived on site to plant 55,000 trees and shrubs.

Rather than planting a monoculture of one species, the surrounding forest was surveyed during the project’s planning stage, and the variety of species naturally occurring in the area were grown and planted. These included trembling aspen, balsam poplar, paper birch, white spruce, tamarack, red osier dogwood, green alder and sandbar willow.

These efforts were bolstered by another round of plantings in 2022, to fill in any remaining gaps. 

White spruce seedling planted at H.G. Lawrence (Photo by Wild + Pine)

White spruce seedling planted at H.G. Lawrence (Photo by Wild + Pine)

What will the future hold?

Wild + Pine will be monitoring the site for five years, to assess how the seedlings are faring and if any action is needed to help them along, such as controlling weeds.

During these five years, the planted seedlings will begin to establish as trees. As this happens, there should be more natural regeneration of desired woody species onto the site. At first, these trees and shrubs will be mainly deciduous species, which prefer full sun. But after 15 years or so, that will start to change.

 “As the tree canopy closes and the site gets more shaded, more white spruce and more mosses will start to take over,” says Kaitlyn.

There will be many environmental benefits to this forest maturing. The added vegetation will help filter any contaminants before they enter the lake, which could help its water quality. The new forest will also provide wildlife habitat and help connect other habitats in the area for moving wildlife.

The work ahead

H.G. Lawrence could be the first of many restoration sites led by Wild + Pine, especially as NCC looks to expands its focus on restoration.

“By completing this project, it allowed us to show NCC this is a really good option and that we’re capable of executing it,” says Kaitlyn. “NCC has made it pretty clear they can’t expand their restoration work without partners like us, and we are excited for the opportunity.”

As NCC works to accelerate conservation across Canada, developing mutually beneficial partnerships — like the one with Wild + Pine — will be key.

To help accelerate the rate of conservation and restoration across Canada, consider donating to NCC today.

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