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New training partnership for native plant growing

Friday, July 12, 2013 - 12:12pm
Susan Down

First Nations in the Peace River region of B.C. will learn how to raise native plants in a new training program being developed by Royal Roads University in partnership with two First Nations communities, leading experts in native plant horticulture and reclamation, and mining companies.

The Native Plant Propagation Program is unique as a community-based training program with a focus on growing native species for reclamation. 

A strong team of supporters has sown the seeds for the $147,000 project. Major metallurgical coal producer Walter Energy donated $25,000 for the training project along with a significant investment in nursery infrastructure. Both the Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations – key partners in the project – and Vancouver-based mining giant Teck Resources Ltd. have made cash contributions as well.   

Approximately half of the funds for the project will come from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program, which is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation in British Columbia. 

 “Given the gap between native planting material supply and the requirements for its use in reclamation, significant demand for the training program is anticipated both within BC and elsewhere in Canada,” said Tim Brigham, Coordinator, Education and Sector Support, at the Centre for Livelihoods and Ecology at Royal Roads University, which is co-leading the curriculum development process. “This program will deliver immediate and on-going positive impacts to the community, the environment and industry.”  

The training courses begin July 15 in the Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations communities near Chetwynd. Additional partners in the project include Keefer Ecological Services and Tipi Mountain Native Plants, a leading native plant nursery in the Kootenays.    

“There is growing demand for native species in the reclamation of degraded landscapes and getting aboriginal communities involved is a great fit,” said Michael Keefer, head of Cranbrook-based Keefer Ecological Services and co-lead on curriculum development with Royal Roads University, where he is an alumnus and an adjunct professor. “Western Canada has a shortage of specialized native plant nurseries that can meet projected market demands, and a major barrier to opening these businesses is a lack of access to suitably trained personnel.”

A native plant nursery – Twin Sisters Native Plants – which is a joint venture of the Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations, will serve the needs of the mining and oil and gas sectors in northeastern BC, and provide a location for the training program. Two greenhouses that will provide 14,000 square feet of growing space for the project have been recently completed.

“A native plant nursery is long overdue in these parts, because there is an incredible lack of reclamation going on in the Northeast,” said Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nations. Willson added that the region has over 15,000 lease sites, 6000 facilities, 100,000 kms of pipelines in the oil and gas patch, five active mines with 20 more proposed, numerous wind farms and large areas of logging cut block.  “We are extremely proud that this is the first native plant nursery in Northeast BC, and it is done in cooperation with the two local First Nations, Royal Roads University and Walter Energy,” he said.

“The community views this initiative as a positive step in the right direction,” said Naomi Owens, Lands Manager at Saulteau First Nations. “We are restoring ecosystems that have been heavily impacted by industrial activities with vegetation that is grown locally through a project that is community driven.”