Syncrude saves summer tree planting program following wildfire

Jul 26, 2016

Despite a later than-usual start, reclamation efforts wrapped up this month with annual tree planting activities at Syncrude's Mildred Lake site.

Although two weeks behind the normal routine, Vegetation Specialist Eric Girard, and Co-op Student Lera Domingue worked hard to start within the planting time frame. Throughout a three-week window, more than 383,000 trees and shrubs were planted, including a unique characteristic species, hazelnut.

A characteristic species is used to define a particular plant community. The beaked hazelnut classifies as a “decosite” community throughout our region.

Beaked hazelnuts are not commonly planted at Syncrude. After Eric’s team discovered remaining seedlings from a research program, they wanted to put them to good use. This allowed the team to utilize around 2,382 plants for reclamation efforts.

“It’s a species we are not usually able to grow in large numbers, it was a great opportunity to plant them,” says Eric. “Hazelnut trees are good gauges to determine the health of an ecosystem, plus they attract animals such as squirrels and other small rodents to our reclamation landscape.”  

Starting her role in late June, Lera was eager to help the team and learn about the tree planting process. Heading out with a team of five people on the first day, they planted more than 2,300 hazelnut trees. “We each had two bags on either side of us and planted until we got the job done. It was hard work, but it was rewarding,” she says.

With the delays due to the wildfire, Eric and his team were uncertain about this year’s tree planting, and feared the associated risks with planting too late in the season.

“We started to get worried. Around June 25 is when everyone normally stops planting frozen stocks,” he recalls. “Our trees and shrubs were in the greenhouse using up energy since September of 2015. At some point they would run out. The trees would not have survived unless we planted them.”

By continuing to plant the trees and shrubs despite the delay, Syncrude was able to avoid any major losses, including costs associated with unusable trees and disposal.

The next steps for Eric and his team include collecting local seeds for the next season.

“We may see challenges collecting seeds over the next few years because of the burned landscape. But we have a good team behind us able to come up with new ideas and work hard to get the reclamation done correctly.”

Syncrude has now planted nearly 8 million trees and shrubs since operations began in 1978.