'Still got lots to do' in Sudbury's regreening program, ecologist says

A program that started in Sudbury in 1978 is still being recognized on the international level.
The Coniston Hydro Road area, shown in 1979 on the left, compared to a 2006 photo on the right. (Supplied/City of Greater Sudbury)

A program that started in Sudbury in 1978 is still being recognized on the international level.

Forty years ago, the City of Greater Sudbury launched the regreening program, which has transformed the city from desolate black rocks to green trees.

In 2018, CBC Sudbury is celebrating its 40th anniversary of going on air. We'll be looking back at some of our top stories from the last four decades.

Peter Beckett, a restoration ecologist and chair of the regreening advisory panel, was no stranger to industrial areas when he first arrived in Sudbury in 1974. He came from England to visit the city.

"I actually thought I'd gone back to some of the barren areas of South Wales," he said.

"There were no trees. There was a rocky hillside with large pebbles."

Another view of Coniston in 1979 (left) compared to 2006 (right). (Supplied/City of Greater Sudbury)

He relocated to Sudbury and remembers the year the program was put into place.

"By that time, the first limestone and grass seed mixture has been laid down near Coniston," he recalls.

"We were waiting with baited breath to see whether it actually came up."

He says he and others went out in late August and found small blades of grass starting to grow.

"There was a general eureka amongst the members of the … committee," he said.

40 years ago, Sudbury looked a lot less green than it does today. The city's regreening program has made a huge difference. It's celebrating a major milestone. It's been around for 40 years now. Stephen Monet is the manager of Environmental Planning Initiatives with the city. Peter Beckett is a restoration ecologist and the chair of the regreening advisory panel. We spoke to both of them about the transformation of Sudbury's landscape. 14:10

Since then, Stephen Monet, the manager of environmental planning initiatives with the city, says work has been done to increase the diversity of the plants.

"We knew that we could grow pine stands on essentially bare rock with a little bit of soil," he said.

"But there wasn't a lot of diversity that was coming in on its own. We developed techniques such as harvesting forest floor mats from areas that were going to be destroyed for other uses."

Monet says the four-laning of Highway 69 south of Sudbury has allowed crews to take forest mats from the French River area and use them in Sudbury's regreening effort.

Peter Beckett is the restoration ecologist and chair of the regreening advisory panel and Stephen Monet is the manager of environmental planning initiatives with the city. (CBC/Markus Schwabe)

"They're going very well," he said.

"Since we've been doing that on a large scale since 2010 and some of the areas have spread now into many meters outside of where they were originally planted."

Educating the public has also been an important part of the process, including teaching young Sudburians about the city's past, Beckett said.

"Right now, we actually have an education intern who has special programs and she's going from school to school to explain to the school children of Sudbury how Sudbury has changed over the last 40 years," he said.

Martindale, in the early 1980s on the left, compared with September 2013 on the right. (Supplied/City of Greater Sudbury)

Since 1978 more than 3,000 hectares of land have been limed and grassed and nearly 10 million trees have been planted.

"We're about halfway there, we've still got lots to do," Beckett said.

"And so, the next generation or so will still be able to work in Sudbury and help to make the place greener and healthier."

Monet adds the program will continue to evolve as climate change becomes more and more relevant.

"Over time we're going to have to start bringing in species that are currently growing farther to the south, so that we don't end up in a few decades with a landscape that is largely irrelevant to the climate of that day," he said.

The regreening advisory panel will be offering tours of Sudbury's regreening sites throughout the spring and summer.

With files from Robin De Angelis

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