Volunteers planting hundreds of trees in provincial park

Volunteers will plant 200 balsam poplars this summer in Fish Creek Provincial Park to replace the aging canopy

A handful of volunteers with the Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society are helping to replenish the tree stock by planting 60 native balsam poplars just west of the Ranch restaurant.

The majority of native poplar trees in the park are getting old. They typically live for 80 to 90 years and many are reaching maturity.

"If 30 per cent of the tree is dead or dying that's considered decadent," said Shana Barbour, Friends of Fish Creek social enterprise and stewardship manager. "That's when you can tell they're getting towards the end of their life span, so you do see that definitely in the park."

The issue was identified in a research study 20 years ago. Now the Friends of Fish Creek has a three year plan to plant hundreds of saplings from Five Star Trees in High River, which sponsors the Poplar Forest Stewardship Project.

"The trees are actually propagated from poplars that were taken from this park many years ago," said Barbour.

The trees need help because they're not growing on their own. Smooth brome grass in the park shades out the younger trees, so they don't survive.

"Poplars need the sediment that comes down a creek bed in a high water event to really establish," said Barbour. "So we see them establishing in the creek bed and sand bars, but there are other places where they're not."

Cassie Fuller, a volunteer intern with the society, has spent the summer planting trees and pulling invasive weeds.

She said the new trees are needed along the banks of Fish Creek.

"They help the riparian areas," said Fuller. "They help to solidify the banks so if there is another flood like in 2013 it hopefully wouldn't take out the whole area so there's lots of good reasons for planting the poplars."

Josh Gibbs said it's tough work digging the holes for the new trees because there are so many roots and rocks to get through but he's happy to help in the park.

"I've lived by Fish Creek for my whole life by Deer Run" he said. "I've started to use the park a lot more in the last six years and there's so much to see, so much nature to see."

Barbour said each tree is getting some help with Groasis Waterboxxes. They're piloting the reusable watering device that will help the trees survive Calgary's hot summer.

"The trees don't get so much water that they become dependent on it," said Barbour. "They get enough water that the roots are encouraged to grow downwards as opposed to shallow if they were getting too much."

The goal is to plant 200 trees this summer and continue that for the next few years.