There is Interest in Canada for the Beneficial Effects of “Small Forests”

    The concept is to create tiny forests in overheated, cement-filled cities

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    In vacant lots, abandoned parks and land along busy highways, neighbors in different regions of the country are coming together to plant trees, many of them, and close together. Little forests, a concept that originated in Japan is being practiced across Canada and around the world.

    “We’re trying to give some space back to nature,” said Jorge Rojas Arias, project director at Arbre Évolution, a tree-planting cooperative in Montreal. His organization has helped carry out several small forestry projects in the Montreal area. One of them lasted two days late last fall, and was held on the campus of John Abbott College in the west of the city.

    In total, some 600 trees and shrubs were planted, including blue beech, swamp birch, balsam fir and two species of oak, all in an area about the size of a tennis court. That is equivalent to three trees for every square meter of land.

    The concept of creating tiny forests is simple to carry out in overheated, cement-filled cities: just gather a group of volunteers, clear a plot of land, and prepare the soil. Then plant a variety of native shrubs and trees in a small area and watch them grow.

    In their early years, trees and shrubs grow rapidly as they compete for light. Because of this, research suggests that these small forests capture more carbon more quickly than a conventional tree plantation.

    Small forests also require little maintenance and weeding after the first few years, and quickly become a dense, multi-level environmental habitat favorable for birds, butterflies and insects. It’s a small area with many ecological benefits, said Chris Levesque, a biology professor who organized the planting on the grounds of John Abbott College.

    Sharon MacGougan, director of the Garden City Conservation Society in Richmond, British Columbia, where four small forests have already been planted, said the benefits are not just ecological. More than that, there is joy in it. It’s really positive for public participation and conservation at the same time.

    The Miyawaki method

    The method of planting small forests was developed by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who was inspired by the ancient trees protected around his country’s religious shrines.

    In an effort to counter deforestation following Japan’s post-war industrial boom, Miyawaki partnered with companies, including Toyota, to plant forested areas next to their factories. Later, in an essay, Miyawaki described how tiny forests are a way to absorb more carbon and cope with the effects of what he described as nature’s fury. He also believed in strengthening the connection between humans and trees.

    The forest is the root of all life; It is the womb that revives our biological instincts, that deepens our intelligence and increases our sensitivity as human beings, wrote Miyawaki, who died in 2021.

    Fukitaka Nishino, who was one of his students, said he is not surprised that the small forest concept is growing around the world, given concerns about climate change. “We are destroying forests and we are destroying the land, and we cannot live without forests,” Nishino said in an interview from Tokyo.

    “A little party in the forest”

    The idea of ​​small forests was further popularized by Shubhendu Sharma, an engineer who was inspired by Miyawaki’s ideas, whom he met in India in 2008. Sharma advocated for tiny, everywhere forests in a 2016 Ted Talk. In a natural forest like this, no one type of management is the best management. It’s a little jungle party, he told the audience.

    This forest grows as a collective. If the same trees, the same species, had been planted independently, they would not grow as fast. And that’s how we created a 100-year-old forest in just 10 years.

    Some doubts exsist

    However, there are questions about whether small forests are the best way to green cities. Todd Irvine, a Toronto arborist with a company called City Forest, said that in certain situations small forests make a lot of sense, such as in areas that desperately need tree cover.

    However, he warned his clients that within 15 to 20 years there will be a significant amount of maintenance from a forestry perspective, because there will be some of those big trees that will be in the shade and start to die. Really fast growing trees can have structural consequences. What we will have are really big trees, but very thin, he explained.

    Carly Ziter, a biology professor at Concordia University with expertise in urban trees, said more research is needed to determine the best approach for the situation in Canada. “I think sometimes people see these small forests as a kind of panacea for all our ecological and social problems,” he said.

    With anything you are trying for the first time or something new in a city, monitoring is very important to understand how it works in your system, how people in your city perceive it, what are the obstacles that are unique to a particular area and what successes might be that are unique to one area.

    Pay attention to changes

    Sharon MacGougan’s group, president of the Garden City Conservation Society in Richmond, received a grant to study the presence of birds in one of the tiny new forests planted in that city in the province of British Columbia.

    The forest will change over time and so will the species that live or nest and inhabit the spaces, he said. Even if the long-term prospects are still unclear, the short-term effect of these small forests is easy to observe.

    Positive examples

    At John Abbott College in Montreal, several dozen students and staff participated in the tree planting, and many said the act of planting itself was memorable. It’s a really good way to connect with nature, Rojas-Arias said. Everyone here gets outdoors and is really satisfied with their day.

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