Clones, bunkers, and banks: the complex science behind preserving Alberta’s forests

This is the first post in a four-post series about how we work to support re-forestation in Alberta. Take a look at the second post, about the Alberta’s Reforestation Seed Bunker, here

 If a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? We’ve all been asked this little hypothetical gem before. But let me ask you another question: if no one is around to plant a new tree, does one still grow?

The answer isn’t surprising: of course it does. But it might surprise you to know that since the 1970s, Alberta’s forests have been regenerating with a little help from their friends – specifically, the staff of the Alberta Tree Improvement & Seed Centre (ATISC).

To understand the benefits of ATISC’s work, consider the forest lifecycle. Although these majestic green canopies might seem unchanging and eternal, they’re actually changing constantly – from human activity, but also from the effects of competition, fire, insects, and disease.

Photo of a forest and wetland near Fort McMurray, Alberta

Alberta’s forests may look eternal – but really, they’re eternally changing

This process might seem destructive – and sometimes it is. But it can also actually be a positive opportunity for the forest to grow back healthier than before – and the stronger, taller, and more disease-resistant the trees, the greater the long-term benefit to both people and ecosystems.

While natural re-growth provides an opportunity for stronger, healthier trees to grow, there’s no guarantee that this will happen. That’s where ATISC comes in – developing tools and resources to help strengthen new forests while ensuring they remain region and ecosystem appropriate. While some of these tools are pretty conventional, others might surprise you. Did you know, for example…

  • …that there’s a bunker with 16-inch deep concrete walls in the county of Smoky Lake storing over 53,000 kilograms of
    Photo of the Alberta Reforestation Seed Bunker

    Concrete bunkers: not just for criminal masterminds anymore

    tree, shrub and grass seed native to Alberta?

  • …that if you’ve traveled across Alberta, there’s a good chance you’ve driven by fields of clones and not even realized it?
  • …that ATISC staff must not only harvest the seeds of certain trees by helicopter, but must also install temporary ‘cages’ around the seeds to win a war with wildlife?

Over the next two weeks, we’ll take you inside Alberta’s Reforestation Seed Bunker, to lush forests now growing in areas leveled by logging and forest fires – and many other places. Stay tuned.

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