Ste-Anne-des-Pins, as Sudbury was known as until the late 19th century, was a remote and small village whose main industry was lumber. Then, in 1883, the Canadian Pacific Railway made its way through the town, bringing with it an influx of population – the town grew and was renamed Sudbury. Copper ore was discovered and mined, however nickel was discarded until it had a use during World War I. This mining proved devastating for the environment – the roasting of copper and nickel was done by cutting down areas the size of football fields, stacking up trees and ore, and setting them ablaze. The fires would take days to die out, covering the area in a sulfuric smoke. Entire sections of forests were cut down, and acid rain destroyed any other vegetation, turning the rocks pitch black.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that ambitious re-greening projects were undertaken. The construction of the Inco Superstack, measuring 380m in height, disperses sulfur dioxide up to 240km away. Nine million trees have been planted since 1978 (Natural Resources Canada), and a revolutionary innovation recently came about at the local university.
This innovation is called forest floor transplantation, and Laurentian University is heading the project. More than just trees were decimated in the refining process – bacteria, fungi, lichens, insects and other plants were also depleted (City of Greater Sudbury). The project originally began in 2004 as a simple test of two plots. Following the great success of the transplantation, the work began in earnest in June 2010, when the top four
inches of soil were harvested from the Highway 400 expansion project and brought back to the damaged land.
The work efforts are believed to help counter some of the effects of the refining (Natural Resources Canada). Laying atop the Canadian Shield, Sudbury has little topsoil to provide anchorage for the newly transplanted trees, making them vulnerable to heavy winds. Furthermore, the lack of soil means a lack of moisture retention, making the forest more susceptible to droughts. The transplanted mats are believed to further help with the spread of vegetation, bringing with them seeds and other bacteria valuable to nutrient cycles. So far, the plots are doing well and some are thriving, reaching up to 120cm beyond the transplant border in a single year.
Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtcMn–mwBY to see the process in action.
City of Greater Sudbury. “Forest Floor Transplants.” Greatersudbury.ca. N.p., 2011. Web. 08 Jan. 2013. <http://www.greatersudbury.ca/living/environmental-initiatives/regreening-program/forest-floor-transplants/>.
Natural Resources Canada. Accelerating Adaptation in Canadian Communities: Case Study 1 of 9 Forest Floor Mat Transplanting in Sudbury. Clean Air Project. N.p., 2012. Web. 8 Jan. 2013. <http://www.cleanairpartnership.org/files/1%20Case%20Study.pdf>.