Parks Canada is preparing to spruce up the province’s only boreal forest.
After decades of decline due to insect infestations and hungry moose, the federal agency says it will plant some 56,000 saplings over the next two years.
Daniel Sinclair, education officer for the Bring Back the Boreal project, said trees will be planted on Saturdays in September and October.
“A boreal forest is commonly classified as more of a conifer-type forest —more like evergreen-bearing trees — so your spruces and your balsam firs, and you might get a few leafy trees in there as well,” said Sinclair.
“A lot of our industry in Canada is based out of the boreal forest, but for us in Cape Breton Highlands it’s the diversity that it brings as well. A lot of animals and plants call the boreal forest home ”
About 40 years ago, a spruce budworm outbreak destroyed large areas of mature forest in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The death of these mature trees created a flush of new growth, considered a winter delicacy for Cape Breton’s northern moose population.
“The moose started to nibble or browse those trees to a point where their population became very healthy and to the point where we now refer to them as hyper-abundant,” said Sinclair.
“So with too many moose and lots of regrowing trees, they started impacting the lifespan of those growing trees to the point where they weren’t growing at all.”
Sinclair said about 11 per cent of the park is classified as non-regenerating forest because of the recent changes.
Parks Canada’s four-year project will begin with the planting of 11,000 white spruce saplings, with the help of park staff, volunteers, school groups and private contractors.
Sinclair said the trees will be planted freely along the Skyline Trail, near Cheticamp, as moose don’t find them very appetizing.
However, next year, when looking to plant 46,000 balsam firs, the saplings will be placed inside an enclosure the size of nine football fields. Sinclair said the recent construction is designed to protect growing trees for about the next 20 years.
“They need to get to a point where they’re higher than a moose can reach, so then they produce seed and cones and start the next generation of trees.”
In the coming years, Sinclair said, the agency will look to monitor its efforts and begin planting some hardwood species, such as white birch and mountain ash.
Park visitors are invited to meet agency staff along the Skyline Trail on Saturdays, when they will be given the tools to get planting.
This weekend, Parks Canada is also hosting a harvest home event Saturday at the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck. In the early 1900s, a similar event was held at the nearby Bell family estate, Beinn Bhreagh.
This year’s celebration will feature experiments, outdoor activities, a reptile zoo and glider and kite workshops.