Indigenous Plants Study in Alberta

May 13, 2021

Our Blue Ridge Lumber and North Central Alberta woodlands group are halfway through a project to understand the effect our activities may have on Indigenous plants. This definition would include trees, berries, and other flora that may hold cultural significance to individual communities. The plants could be used for medicinal or spiritual reasons or be used as a food source.

“The project was in direct response to what North Central and Blue Ridge was hearing in their consultation with the communities,” said Roxanne Cross, a forester with Blue Ridge and who’s leading the project. “There was a real concern of how our activity is affecting traditional plants. We thought this would be a good engagement piece with the communities and would provide us with some baseline data to have these conversations.”

The project is taking part in two phases. The first one has already happened: the project team reviewed published books and met with 12 Indigenous communities to figure out which plants in the Boreal forest were considered culturally significant by the Indigenous Peoples. More than 110 Traditional use plants were identified, including Balsam fir, Fireweed, and Wild chives. The research also included what literature says about how the plants are affected by natural disturbances such as fires and forestry operations.

The next step of the research is to conduct field studies in the areas around these 12 communities. Employees at West Fraser and members of these Indigenous communities will track how the Traditional Use plants are being affected by forestry operations compared to natural disturbances. The collaborative approach and work completed by the Indigenous groups will be paid for by West Fraser and will help us all better understand the impacts of forestry.

“I think the outcome of this fieldbased research will dictate where this project goes and what the outcome says about different plants,” added David Pelchat, a forester with Blue Ridge and also a member of this project. “Maybe there is an impact from forestry or maybe the plants will be thriving. Whatever information we get will take us down a different planning path.”

The information, which will be gathered over the next two summers, will be used to identify mitigation tactics that could reduce negative impacts to these plants. Roxanne added: “It’s quite exciting to have this level of engagement. I think it shows a high level of commitment from West Fraser to have meaningful conversations with these communities. It really speaks to wanting to understand the issues and understanding what we can do. Because if we can change a reforestation treatment that we do and it makes a positive difference in the return of the plants, then why wouldn’t we do it?”

Funding for this project will total about $1 million and was accessed through the Forest Resource Improvement Program, with the Forest Resource Improvement Association of Alberta. The Government of Alberta directs a portion of the stumpage fees paid for trees harvested on crown lands into this funding program. West Fraser can then access that funding for projects such as this one.