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Defying COVID-19: Baby trees find new homes in Bonnyville yards and parks

Baby trees find new homes in Bonnyville yards and parks
Arlene Hrynyk of the Northern Lights School Division (right) accepts the seedlings from Lise Warawa, Cenovus Senior Advisor, Local Community Relations.

June 2020 - When one of our scheduled tree planting projects in northern Alberta’s caribou country got canceled because of COVID-19, tens of thousands of footlong tree seedlings were left stranded. So Cenovus staff quickly got to work to find new homes for the little spruces, jack pines and larches in the yards and parks of Bonnyville, Lac La Biche, Cold Lake and surrounding communities.

Of some 180,000 native seedlings we would have planted prior to their expiry date as part of our land restoration program, we donated the majority as a token of appreciation for our communities and the people who live there. With lucky timing – the summer holidays around the corner – local students carried home a baby tree during what would have been their last week of lessons.

Arlene Hrynyk drove 90 kilometres each way from Lac La Biche to Wandering River to hand out seedlings to youngsters in the remote hamlet where the elementary school, like schools everywhere else, was closed.

“This was a wonderful way to connect with our students before the start of summer after a difficult spring,” said the Board Chair of the Northern Lights School Division. “We encouraged students to plant their seedlings as a way to remember their growth and accomplishments over the past year.”

Where the trees went:

  • Public school students throughout the Northern Lights School Division
  • Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement
  • Town of Bonnyville & Municipal District of Bonnyville
  • Lac La Biche County
  • Alberta Parks – handed out trees to campers
  • Lakeland Catholic School District
  • Cenovus staff – gifted many trees to their neighbours and public golf courses

“We made the best out of a difficult situation and gave back to the communities close to our operations,” said Jason Barrie, Cenovus Senior Environmental Advisor, who led the initiative to donate the seedlings. “It’s great the trees won’t go to waste, and we’ll resume tree planting after the COVID-19 risk subsides.” 

Annual tree plants are part of the Cenovus Caribou Habitat Restoration Project, the largest initiative of its kind in the world, which aims to restore forest cover to reduce fragmentation in caribou habitat in northern Alberta. Since 2013, we have planted about 1 million trees as part of this program.