Thousands of trees planted as project aims to make P.E.I. National Park more resilient to storms like Fiona
Fiona may have uprooted thousands of trees in P.E.I.'s National Park, but the people planting the park's future woodlands say they're getting a golden opportunity to make the forest more resilient.
A project is underway in the park to restore areas affected by the recent storms Fiona and Dorian while also adding more biodiversity to those areas.
It's called the Wabanaki-Acadian forest restoration project. Since 2019, more than 20,000 trees have been planted in the park, with 4,000 more expected this year.
"It's a big undertaking but it's very rewarding. Lots of those tree seedlings are doing very well," said Hailey Paynter, a landscape ecologist with the P.E.I. National Park.
"The opportunity is ripe now. We have lots of open forest space thanks to recent storms."
Post-tropical storms Dorian and Fiona left significant damage across the province's forested areas.
The Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project said more than a quarter of the trees in Charlottetown's Victoria Park fell down during Fiona last September.
Parks Canada reckons that about 80 per cent of the trees in the Cavendish area were lost during Dorian in 2019.
But despite all that damage, restoration is possible, Paynter said.
"Unfortunately it's a lot more complicated than just planting a tree and walking away," she said.
"But that being said, it is a good start."
'Diversity is really key'
Part of the project is taking place in what is now a forest in Cavendish.
Just 25 years ago, that same plot of land was used as a farm field, and had no trees whatsoever.
"It really highlights the fact that forest restoration doesn't happen overnight," Paynter said.
Adding new trees in spots cleared out by the storms is the main goal. But it's also an opportunity to making the forest more diverse.
That means having less white spruce trees, which Paynter said P.E.I. forests got enough of already.
"Diversity is really key in making sure these ecosystems stay healthy," she said.
"Diversity in terms of species, in terms of age, class — that's going to make for a very resilient forest moving forward."
Thinking about the future
In some areas in Cavendish, the damage done by Mother Nature is still visible. Trees are tipped over and branches are scattered along the ground.
But with destruction also comes new growth and regeneration, Paynter said.
"[The forest] relies on the decomposition of these materials in order to enhance the health of the soils," she said. "Healthy soils mean healthy forests.
"It provides habitat to a lot of species ... and finally, a lot of that coarse, woody debris provides shade to the forest floor, and that shade allows appropriate vegetation to come back to those areas."
Paynter said keeping the forest healthy is a never-ending commitment and is crucial to keeping them resilient.
"We want to make sure that the seed species or the tree species that we're putting in place now are in the right space and they're going to persist into the future, for future generations to enjoy," she said.