Forêt Capitale Forest applies stewardship philosophy to tree-planting

By Wes Smiderle

In October, Forêt Capitale Forest (FCF) and local volunteers planted trees along the Aviation Pkwy. The group will rely on volunteers in the area to tend the young trees for a few years to give them the best chance of growing. Photo: John Duimovich

Manor Park resident Innes Buck went to Guelph to get a degree in environmental sciences. When it came time to find work, he didn’t have to stray far from his roots.

Innes is currently working an internship as an environment and research manager with Forêt Capitale Forest (FCF), a non-profit group devoted to fighting climate change in part by increasing the amount of forested land in the city, and spreading awareness of the importance of trees and biodiversity overall.

“It’s just been really an amazing experience with lots of exciting new developments because it (FCF) is so young,” says Innes, who grew up on Kilbarry Cres. “There are a lot of cool, ground-level projects being put-together.”

Ground-level literally and figuratively. A central plank of FCF’s tree-planting philosophy is involving local volunteers with their tree-planting projects.

Innes was among the FCF staff and community volunteers, including other Manor Park residents, planting trees along the Aviation Pkwy. in late October.

It was a cold and rainy afternoon. Miserable for people but pleasantly soggy for saplings.

Drawing on stores of young trees from its hub in Blackburn Hamlet, the group planted about 200 trees.

‘Plant-and-go wasn’t working’

It was a modest step towards the group’s eventual goal of increasing the tree coverage of east Ottawa by 1,000 hectares (or about 2,470 acres) by 2030.

Not only is FCF’s plan ambitious, the group’s approach to tree-planting is also a little radical.

The group doesn’t just “plant and go,” as director Shelley Lambert describes it.

“The plant-and-go model wasn’t working . . . We actually steward young trees in place for a few years until the point where the tree is at a free-to-grow stage.”

She notes survival rates for trees planted this way can be “quite low.” She says developing a new, more reliable approach to tree-planting was part of the reason Forêt Capitale Forest formed in the first place.

‘Stewardship’ means that, part-and-parcel with physically planting trees, the group makes sure that there are people in the neigbourhood who know about the planting and can participate in caring for the saplings and nurturing their growth for about three to five years.

This means scheduling visits to check in on the trees, watering them when needed and ensuring that the winter guards (basically a wrap protecting the tree bark from hungry rodents) are in place.

‘Winterizing party’

The organization was founded about two years ago, during the pandemic, and quickly grew to develop relationships in the community.

“It’s been a dramatically fast and busy rise,” says Shelley, “but it really did tell us that what we’re doing fills a nice niche, fills a gap.”

The group was busy leading up to the winter. Staff and volunteers held a “winterizing party” at their base of operations, Just Food Community Farm in Blackburn Hamlet. This involved planting their remaining stock of potted trees before the ground freezes. The party became a planting “blitz” during which 1,200 tree seedlings were planted at the group’s “Community Tree Hub.”

Shelley says they hope it’s the first of “many” tree hubs. “I think it’s a wonderful way to collaborate in this capacity=building way . . .We could have them scattered around the city so someone in the west end doesn’t have to drive to Blackburn [to get trees].”

The following day, organizers hosted their first tree forum, featuring talks and hand-on workshops about the early lifecycle of trees. They hope to make the forum a regular annual event.

The FCF also recently launched a tree sapling harvesting and replanting program. This involves collecting wild saplings of local trees species, planting and caring for them until they reach ideal replanting age and then relocate and monitor the trees in a new location.

Through this process, FCF aims to integrate all the steps with local partners, from sapling identification to health and safety planning and purchase of supplies.

‘Really a long investment’

Innes credits growing up in Manor Park for at least partly inspiring his interest in trees and the environment.

While earning his degree in environmental management, focusing on science, policy and law, Innes examined the issue “greenwashing”, or making activities seem beneficial to the environment when they really aren’t or could even be harmful.

He says the phenomenon could sometimes be applied to planting trees. Not all efforts are equal and some don’t result in many, or any, healthy and mature trees growing to expand the canopy.

“The ease of saying you’ve planted trees . . . People hear that and think it’s great, but the process . . . it’s really a long investment. There’s a lot of work involved in getting to that point.”

It’s work that Innes, and FCF, seem ready to tackle.

Manor Park resident Innes Buck, Forêt Capitale Forest environmental and research manager, waters a tree at the Just Food Community Farm in Blackburn Hamlet over the summer. Photo: John Duimovich
A relentless downpour prevented volunteers from the Ottawa Boys & Girls club from helping out with a tree-planting along the Aviation Pkwy. in October, but the rain did not dampen the spirits of Forêt Capitale Forest directors Stephanie McNeely, left, and Shelley Lambert. “The trees like it,” notes Shelley. Photo: John Duimovich
Each sapling at the Aviation Pkwy. site is protected by a tree guard to prevent winter munching by rodents, and also marked with a flag so that it can be easily identified by volunteers interested in helping to “steward the site over the next three to five years. Photo: John Duimovich