Tree shortage shocks new shelter belt operator

Indian Head centre | Temporary operator of the former federal facility says work will focus on re-establishing tree varieties

Deliveries of trees from the former federal shelter belt centre in Indian Head, Sask., will begin next week, even though the lessee says fewer varieties than expected were found on site.


HELP International chief executive officer Rodney Sidloski said he was shocked to find only eight of 35 varieties of trees available for harvest.


“Decommissioning was going on absolutely full scale, non stop,” he said last week about what he found upon assuming the lease. 


“Bolts and nuts were taken apart on major equipment, tilting tables and such. The processing centre looked like an empty Quonset. It was really quiet alarming.”


He said he discovered the lack of varieties only last week because he didn’t have access to field records before then.


Pre-orders are coming in regularly and some for early pickup have already been filled from the organization’s Weyburn nursery.


HELP has a seven-month lease to operate the centre until October while the federal government negotiates a potential purchase of the former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration operation by the nearby Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation.


Sidloski said 80 percent of the work to be done this year will be to re-establish the centre as a going concern.


He said HELP knew the willows and poplars hadn’t been planted but was surprised to find even fewer trees than expected.


“We’ve already harvested somewhere up to a quarter million or so of poplar stock to start re-establishing the fields,” Sidloski said.


HELP intends to harvest 1.5 million poplar and willow cuttings for rooted seedlings available for fall planting.


Spring stock is coming from Weyburn, other nurseries and other provinces to supplement the eight species found at Indian Head.


Sidloski said HELP added its 300,000 trees, including 13 varieties of poplars, willows and green ash, to the shelter belt centre stock to boost inventory.


Evergreen, caragana, lilac, chokecherry, buffalo berry, hawthorn and dogwood seedlings are also available.


The shelter belt centre offered its trees at no cost during its 110-year history, but there is a price under the new model.


Orders of 300 trees or more cost $1.50 per seedling. A seedling is 25 to 50 centimetres tall depending on the variety. Smaller orders are more, at $2.50 per tree.


Sidloski said orders are averaging 300 trees, and he hasn’t seen much resistance from customers who likely would prefer free trees. 


However, he thinks the orders are probably half the size of normal.


Seventy percent of the orders have come from Saskatchewan, 25 percent from Manitoba and only a handful from Alberta.


Three delivery routes have been scheduled from May 10-15 to major centres where pre-paid orders can be picked up. A technician will accompany each order to provide advice to customers.


HELP hopes to launch a fall planting program as well.


“We’re very, very excited we’re going to be launching a big prairie-wide fall forestry program that’s never been done before, except for the fact that HELP International has been contract planting since 2000 up to 60,000 trees each fall very successfully,” he said.


The centre’s programs are targeted at rural landowners and small communities.


Sidloski said trees benefit everyone, no matter where they are planted. They produce oxygen and make windy Saskatchewan more hospitable.


HELP is a not-for-profit organization that uses a lot of volunteer labour to deliver its programs, in-cluding international and Canadian interns from agricultural and environmental programs.


Sidloski said HELP is pleased that it can re-establish operations at the centre while Ottawa negotiates with the First Nations council.


“We have an agreement in principle with them to continue the management of the centre,” he said of Carry the Kettle band. “It’s more complex than that, but we would have a long-term stake in the centre.”

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