A talk with a co-founder and director
By Jennifer Humphries
Stephanie McNeely wanted to convert her climate anxiety into climate action, and she wanted to use the resources of the natural world to do it. She turned to what is arguably the top contributor to ecosystem and human health: trees.
In 2020, McNeely, an Old Ottawa South (OOS) resident, a member of the OOS Enviro Crew, a transportation engineer and the mother of two young children, began talking with a group of like-minded individuals in Ottawa. They had different backgrounds but shared a common interest in a project centering on trees. With skills in forestry research, food forests, community tree planting, consulting and project management, they used the start of the pandemic to launch a new non-profit.
The result is Forêt Capital Forest (FCF) with a vision of converting 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of Ottawa’s land into forest by 2030. That equates to about one million trees, a number that may seem out of reach but is totally feasible and absolutely necessary with ever-increasing extreme weather events taking down older trees. This goal is given added impetus by the federal government’s two-billion tree program and by scientific research showing the vital role played by trees in planetary sustainability.
“Nature’s got solutions. Let’s use them,” McNeely said.
FCF is a non-profit with five directors, including McNeely, as well as technical advisers. It plays a connector or convenor role. It connects communities with organizations responsible for greenspace such as the National Capital Commission. Searching for a base of operations, FCF found a keen partner in Just Food, a 20-year-old, non-profit agricultural organization dedicated to food security which opened up land on its farm in east Ottawa for the new group’s organization’s tree-planting projects.
To meet their million-tree target, FCF invites community members to identify fallow or unutilized places in their neighbourhoods that seem suited to trees. If FCF determines that a site is appropriate and that permission can be obtained by the owner (the City or NCC, for example), they will work cooperatively with community volunteers to plan and plant. With FCF’s guidance, the community then takes care of the trees, paying special attention to young seedlings in their first years. There are three such projects already, at Hog’s Back Park, along the Aviation Parkway and (coming this spring) in Chelsea.
“We want residents to see the project as their trees, with their trails running through them, and to care for them with that strong sense of ownership,” McNeely said.
In the fall, FCF partnered with Community Associations for Environmental Sustainability (CAFES), composed of over 50 community associations across the city; Glebe resident Angela Keller-Herzog is its director. Together, they worked with Ecology Ottawa and planned a get-your-hands-dirty volunteer event to find a home for the last 1,200 seedlings from the seedling giveaway program. With strong support from CAFES and Ecology Ottawa, the donation and volunteer event culminated in the creation of a seedling area with hopes that this will become a Tree Hub for short-term growth of seedlings before they are deployed to their forever home in a new afforestation site. (Afforestation differs from reforestation in that it involves planting trees on land that has not recently been covered with forest.)
FCF wants to get Ottawans to visit their base of operations both to learn about the forests that they have initiated and to help with seed foraging, planting and nurturing trees. They frequently host events, but you can also just take a walk on their hiking trail to enjoy and experience.
“We are eager to have volunteers, with and without experience,” said McNeely. They also welcome donations and are always on the lookout for potential project sponsors.
The group’s motto is “planting with a plan.” Too often seedlings have been planted only to die prematurely, due to poor or inappropriate soil, bad drainage or lack of care in their crucial first three years of growth. FCF’s plantings are done after consideration of growth factors. And they use simple selection criteria that are often overlooked, such as what else is growing well in the area – in other words, what are the native trees that are adapted to local conditions. And they plant next door to existing forests. As Suzanne Simard has shown us, trees cooperate and support one another, so one way to increase a seedling’s likelihood to survive and thrive is to plant near older trees.
Keep in touch with FCF and get the latest on events by following them on Facebook or Instagram. Their website offers an array of resources on forests, planting and projects. See facebook.com/foretcapitaleforest; instagram.com/foretcapitaleforest/; foretcapitaleforest.ca/; justfood.ca/
Jennifer Humphries is co-chair of the Glebe Report Association and a former co-chair of the Environment Committee (EC) of the Glebe Community Association as well as the EC’s lead on trees. She believes that our neighbourhood needs more new native trees planted each year and needs to work to protect the mature trees that we already have. Contact the EC at firstname.lastname@example.org.