It all started in a truck with a view on a rainy day . . .

Reg Rempel was telling a story about the land and how areas of the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area had been cleared before Sandy Cross had purchased it to become a “Paradise Preserved”. He pointed to the top of the most prominent hill on the land saying, “I’d love to see trees back there one day and I’m sure Sandy would have too”. In that moment I immediately knew how that might just happen: “I think I know how we can make that happen”.

With hope and a lot of excitement in my step, I spoke with my mom, Sandra Taylor, knowing the Junior Forest Wardens were looking for a site to plant that coming year. We decided it was a possibility. The next day I told Reg of my plan to involve the Junior Forest Wardens. Thus began the project of building a relationship between the two organizations. The Junior Forest Wardens had never participated in a planting project on land that would be protected for generations to come. A place where wildlife habitat was managed first, not resources for industry. This program would also be a first for the ASCCA too as it had never held a tree planting event, or an event that large out on the land. There was a lot at stake – it would require both organizations to take a step of faith. 10 years later and we are proud to say we have planted 81,500 Native trees on the Pine Creek Headwaters. There are 10-year-old trees growing on the highest elevation point on the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area once more.

There have been many hands that have helped with this program from its inception to its current state. Michelle Abbott, Sandra Taylor, and Reg Rempel are standouts among the crowd. It is their combined efforts that created the program and established its future direction. These individuals fostered a commitment to the growth and continued investment in this partnership and the habitat it has created.

The program has faced adversity, from impacts of the pandemic to drought, to severe winter conditions, with resilience. The program itself has become much more informative and focused on teaching the positive impacts we are having on the land. There have been several years of drought which has reduced the recruitment and survival of seedlings. Planting trees on the ASCCA is unlike planting anywhere else. Where once a forest stood, eight decades of grass has grown resulting in tall and thick grass that often makes it so you cannot tell where you planted your last tree. This can make planting feel discouraging and it is difficult to see progress when you are up against the elements. The trees in their initial years can be stunted by drought, tall grass, and harsh winter conditions, especially freezing and thawing. However, it has been noticed that, although not tall, most trees put almost all their effort into developing roots during the first 3 years. Then all of a sudden 4-6 years later trees appear as though they have been planted overnight! They poke through the grass and can be seen from a short distance. As they mature and continue to grow, some first-year trees have reached 6 feet and are starting to create a young forest. It becomes clearer with time and care that there isn’t anything to be discouraged about for with each year of planting we are bringing positive change.

I can recall many of the planters being disappointed with the results of our efforts. We gathered for lunch and I gave an opportunity for Junior Forest Wardens to ask any questions they wanted about the tree planting. Many of them had great questions. They were curious about the trees and what species we were planting, how we picked the species, why we were planting, and even why the trees we had planted 4 years prior were not a forest yet. I shared a story with them about a defining moment in the program for me.

I clearly recall going to check on the trees from the Year One planting. I had not been to the site for a couple of years and was feeling discouraged after having checked a number of the other sites, not seeing the results I wanted. As I crested the hill on a warm summer evening with the City of Calgary in the distance, I looked out over the land I cherish. There was an abundance of waist-high Pine and Spruce trees dotting the hillside. I sat in amongst the trees and felt an overwhelming sense of pride, joy, and accomplishment. Birds were using the trees to rest while they hunted insects in the sky over the trees. A herd of elk had bedded down and were using the trees for shade only now revealing themselves to go and graze around the bend in the hill. The habitat we had put blood, sweat and tears into was now beginning to show the fruits of our labour.

The following Spring I was wanting to check on the trees and see how the habitat changed in that
season. Even from a distance, I could see an immediate change. Where the Pines and Spruce were on the hill, the snow was still there. This snow proceeded to stay 2 weeks after the rest of the hill had cleared of snow. As one of the main objectives of the program is to restore the headwaters of the South fork of Pine Creek, this is considered a resounding success and something that should be highly celebrated.

A young forest is taking form! It has changed an open field of invasive grass back to a native forest. This is a story that is still being written. As we continue with each of our yearly plantings, I share a new chapter of succession with the Junior Forest Wardens as a reminder of why we are planting.

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