P.E.I. watershed groups planting trees in beaver meadows in new climate change project

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Crews of tree planters working their way through the beaver meadow on the Naufrage River.   (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)
Crews of tree planters working their way through the beaver meadow on the Naufrage River. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

Three watershed groups on P.E.I. are planting trees in beaver meadows this summer, part of a new project to help deal with the impacts of climate change.

In the Souris area, trees are being planted in a beaver meadow that is part of the Naufrage River system, created when beavers abandoned a dam there decades ago.

The local watershed co-ordinator said not all Islanders will know the term "beaver meadow" but they likely would have seen them.

"Where beavers make impoundments, a lot of the trees die back as a result of either getting cut down by the beavers to use in the dam, or just getting flooded out," said Frances Braceland, of the Souris and area branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation.

"Once the beavers are gone from an area, the silt builds back up again, and the plants and grasses can start to grow in the area where the trees used to be."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Braceland said that over time, the vegetation changes in the beaver meadow, starting with grasses and then wildflowers, and the area is good for capturing carbon.

But, she said, adding trees to the beaver meadow is important for another reason.

"The water temperature is very warm in the Naufrage River," Braceland said.

"When we're focusing on Atlantic salmon and brook trout, they need cold temperatures to survive and to live happily."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Braceland said the hope is that planting native tree species in the beaver meadow will help improve the river habitat for the fish.

"We need to try and bring the temperature down, and when it's an open meadow, the sun's beating in, it gets too hot," Braceland said.

"By planting trees again, we get shade it out. Plus replanting with native diverse forest is also a good thing. It captures carbon, it increases biodiversity."

Wet areas

Braceland said there are challenges to tree planting in a beaver meadow, compared to some other locations.

"It's very wet is one of them. So we're trying to make sure that we find the right tree in the right spot. The wet areas need to have species that are more tolerant of the wet conditions," Braceland said.

"Access is another issue, just getting the trees in there. When you're trying to take 400 trees down a tiny little trail and you're carrying them, it takes quite a while."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Braceland said the watershed group will be monitoring the water temperatures to see if they drop once the trees are established.

But she said it will take time.

"We're not going to plant the whole meadow with trees today, but we're going to introduce some species which they can then start to spread out," she said.

"You've got to have some of that natural regeneration still. Ten plus years, probably at least,"

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Climate resiliency

The P.E.I. Watershed Alliance is doing similar tree planting in beaver meadows in the Hunter River and Tignish areas.

The project is supported by the Provincial Climate Challenge Fund, which provides money for extra labour and the trees.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

"We're also trying to increase capture of carbon by increasing the amount of woody stems," said Simon Wilmot, forest habitat specialist with the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance.

"Most of the area is just grass right now, with reeds. And so it doesn't have the same capture capacity as when we have trees. So diversity is important for the future resiliency."

According to the 2010 Corporate Land Use Inventory, P.E.I. has approximately 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) of what it calls beaver-influenced wetlands, which means they had some kind of beaver activity at some point in time within the wetland area.

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