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Plant trees, help our watershed adapt

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Tree planting can help our watershed be better prepared and ready to adapt to extreme events.

 

Planting trees is one way you can improve health, resilience of our natural areas
Planting trees through spring tree order program is one way to add resiliency

As we begin 2022, resilience is once again a common theme, according to Ausable Bayfield Conservation staff.

Forests and natural areas are an important part of resilient communities. They provide economic and recreation opportunities and places to gather and reflect, said Ian Jean, Forestry and Land Stewardship Specialist with Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA). Ian said forests also help to create clean air and clean water. They also contribute to better mental and physical health.   

People in our communities have been resilient especially over the past two years. The natural areas we depend on and enjoy must also be resilient, Ian said. Drought, storms, pest outbreaks, and disease have impacted our forests over the years.

“Forests have natural qualities that help them recover,” said the Forestry Specialist. “Genetic variability in trees and species diversity in forests are important for adaptation and recovery.” There are complex connections between plants and fungi in the forest we are only beginning to understand, he said. 

Enhancing the qualities that help natural areas recover from stress are more important now than ever, according to Ian. Climate change, invasive species and newly introduced pests and diseases bring additional strain to natural systems.

“Our natural areas today are very fragmented,” he said. “This makes them more vulnerable to the impacts of drought, pests or disease but there are several things we can do to enhance the resilience of our natural areas.”

Planting trees to enlarge and connect natural areas helps build resilience. Larger forests and natural areas have less edge effect and tend to have stronger associations between plants, fungi and animals. This reduces opportunities for invasive species and improves recovery from stressors. Connecting natural areas allows movement of wildlife, pollinators and genetic exchange necessary for adaptation and recovery following disturbance.  

Dutch Elm Disease and Emerald Ash Borer and other invasive pests have had major local impacts in recent memory but our forests show an incredible ability to recover and adapt, Ian said. While there are challenges ahead, he prefers cautious optimism over worst-case scenarios. “We are in a good position with tools, resources and knowledge to build resiliency and help forests recover and adapt,” he said.  

We can all contribute, according to the Forestry and Land Stewardship Specialist. In backyards, planting native wildflowers to enhance pollinator habitat is important. On farms, naturalizing unproductive land, small or odd-shaped fields, or rough valley lands improves resilience. These areas can be actively restored through planting or simply left to let nature take over. The advantage of an active approach, according to Ian, is the ability to enhance species’ diversity and function.

Planting different kinds of trees and native vegetation can be used to enhance diversity. “Diversity is very important,” he said. “More diverse forests are more resilient to disease, pests and climate stress.” Equally important, according to Ian, is matching trees appropriately to the soil type, drainage and other site characteristics.

The Oxford online dictionary defines resilience as " ... the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness."

For forests these difficulties could be drought, disease, pests, storms, fire, invasive species, other disturbances.

Resilience is the ability to recover from a disturbance or trauma. Watersheds can experience damaging events such as floods. Watershed resilience (or resiliency) is the ability of a watershed to recover from severe events and extreme weather. Projects such as tree planting, wetlands and other stewardship enhancements can build the resilience that make watersheds better prepared to adapt to and recover from extreme events including floods, droughts, and extreme weather.

The Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority offers a wide range of trees through its spring tree planting program. Ian encourages interested landowners to visit abca.ca for the spring tree order form or to give him a call at 519-235-2610 or toll-free 1-888-286-2610 to discuss planting projects.

“We’re happy to help with project design and help to apply for funding for eligible projects,” he said.

Funding programs are available in many areas for naturalization dependent on the type of project, location and specific program details.

Ausable Bayfield Conservation thanks grant program funding partners including member municipalities, Huron County Clean Water Project, Forests Ontario, the Government of Canada’s Canada Nature Fund, and Ausable Bayfield Conservation Foundation, along with community donors and other valued funding partners. 

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