EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada, February 4, 2017 (ENS) – Tree Canada, a national tree planting charity, will invest more than C$1 million to restore forests destroyed by the Fort McMurray wildfires last year.

Fort McMurray is located in northeast Alberta, in the middle of the Athabasca oil sands, surrounded by boreal forest. It has played a big role in the development of the national petroleum industry. Severe wildfires in May 2016 led to the evacuation of an estimated 75,000 residents and caused widespread damage to the forests surrounding the small city.

fire

Fort McMurray wildfires destroyed vast stretches of boreal forest surrounding the oil sands city. (Photo courtesy Tree Canada)

Following overwhelming support from corporate partners and individual Canadians, Tree Canada announced that plantings will begin this spring.

“We’re dedicated to returning this community to its former beauty and would like to thank our corporate partners and individual Canadians for making it possible,” said Michael Rosen, president of Tree Canada, who visited the region last year to assess the damage and prioritize areas for reforestation.

“We deeply sympathize with residents who lost their homes and have had their lives so disrupted by the fire,” said Rosen. “It is my sincere hope that this initiative will help to bring back a sense of normalcy.”

Tree Canada’s Operation ReLeaf Fort McMurray program will begin planting trees in publically-owned natural, forested areas to facilitate forest regrowth according to Fire Smart standards.

Discussions are underway to replace trees lost in adjacent First Nation communities.

The restoration project will continue at least into 2018, and possibly into 2019 with a focus on residential trees and street trees to be planted.

A planned 2018 project will aim to restore the tree canopy in Beacon Hill, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the blaze that consumed an area about the size of the province of Prince Edward Island.

“We are deeply grateful to Tree Canada and all of its partners for this very generous donation,” said Melissa Blake, Mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray. “This support will undoubtedly lift the spirits of the entire community and help us restore so much of the natural beauty that was impacted by the wildfire.”

dead trees

After the fire east of Fort McMurray dead trees were left standing, Sept, 2016 (Photo by Jason Woodhead)

To support the Operation ReLeaf Fort McMurray program, Tree Canada’s long-time partner Canadian National Railway, CN, has donated C$1 million.

“Fort McMurray is an important community for CN, and our own employees were personally affected by the disaster. We are proud to support an initiative that will not only help restore the tree canopy but will also contribute to the wellbeing of this community with lasting benefits,” said Mike Cory, CN executive vice-president and chief operating officer.

“We encourage other Canadian businesses to join CN in support of Fort McMurray’s reforestation” he said.

In addition to CN, Tree Canada has collected donations from TELUS, IKEA Canada, FedEx Express Canada, U-Haul, BP Canada Energy Group and Unilever Canada, as well as from many individual Canadians.

Since 1992, Tree Canada has planted more than 80 million trees, greened over 580 schoolyards and helped organize 12 national urban forest conferences.

The next Canadian Urban Forest Conference will take place in Vancouver, BC in 2018.

For more about Operation ReLeaf Fort McMurray, visit https://treecanada.ca/en/programs/operation-releaf/.

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