Operation ReLeaf – Fort McMurray

Putting the Green Back in People’s Lives

Forest WildfireIf you’re a resident of Fort McMurray and have just watched your house burn down…

…your job disappear and your child’s school year interrupted, you will never be reassured by knowing that, “Fire is a part of the boreal ecosystem”. Fire is part of the dynamic nature of forests as they germinate, grow, mature and replace themselves. Many ecosystems, including evergreen forests have evolved with fire.

During a typical year in Canada, over 9,000 wildfires burn an area of 2.5 million ha (or four PEI’s). Scientists predict that the intensity and frequency of these fires will rise throughout the next century. Besides burning forests, smoke from these fires can affect air quality (and health) for a great distance.

Messages given by such figures as “Smokey Bear” molded public opinion to believe that fires are always harmful. Fire is now regarded as a “natural disturbance” driving the evolution of species and controlling the characteristics of ecosystems.

Yet, just because wildfire is a part of the ecosystem should never encourage us to carelessly light fires. People should always follow common sense practices:

SMOKING – don’t smoke while walking in the forest, make sure your match is out, and never throw a lit cigarette out of a vehicle;

CAMPFIRES – select a safe place on mineral soil near water. Surround the fireplace with rocks and make sure the fire is dead out by flooding with water when done, and;

BURNING DEBRIS OR GRASS – obtain a burning permit and burn in a safe place. Avoid burning when it is windy and have fire-fighting tools ready.

In Fort McMurray, the fires burned an area greater than 500,000 ha (bigger than PEI) and have greatly affected the life of this eighty-thousand-person community. The largest fire evacuation in Canada’s history resulted in 2,400 buildings being burnt. Many of the remaining parts of the city remain contaminated.  In addition, all five First Nation communities surrounding the city were also directly or indirectly affected. The thousands of street trees and backyard trees that were burnt add to the emptiness and despair in people’s lives. Thankfully though, our forests, even our urban forests, are a dynamic entity that with your help, can be re-established to grow and bring back the environmental benefits they give to the people of Fort McMurray.

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Michael Rosen, R.P.F., President – Tree Canada

Besides all of their environmental benefits in filtering air and water pollutants and sequestering CO2, many studies have also shown the positive links between trees and wellness – both physical and mental. Which is why Tree Canada has launched Operation ReLeaf – Fort McMurray. While the clean-up of the mess is ongoing, the planning has just begun to replace the caliper-sized trees on the streets, backyards and ravines needed to re-green and re-landscape Fort McMurray. Through our combined efforts, we can hopefully raise the funds to restore the urban landscape of the city and the First Nation communities which surround it.

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