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Groundbreaking at new Butternut Seed Orchard

Planting a Butternut seedling, at ceremony, were Ian Jean (from ABCA) and, from FGCA, Heather Zurbrigg and Corey Gent.


Forest Gene Conservation Association hosts groundbreaking ceremony at five-acre Butternut Archive Orchard at Triebner Tract

The Forest Gene Conservation Association (FGCA) hosted a groundbreaking ceremony, on Friday, August 18, 2023, at the five-acre Butternut Archive Orchard at Triebner Tract northwest of Exeter. There were 20 people at the ceremony including project partners and interested woodlot owners. The archive orchard is created to help protect the endangered Butternut tree species.

The ceremony began with brief remarks, in front of the Southern Ontario Butternut Seed Orchard sign, and concluded with the planting of a Butternut tree at the site. (The project partners planted other Butternuts, at the site, in May of this year).

Heather Zurbrigg is Manager of Species Conservation with Forest Gene Conservation Association. She said she was “excited to see so many people here to join us for this groundbreaking of the Butternut archive ... it’s amazing.” She said FGCA is involved in four main program areas: seed management; education and advocacy; climate change adaptation; and species conservation.

“Our largest project area, under the species conservation program, is our Butternut recovery program,” she said. FGCA now has six Butternut archive orchards. “This is a huge step both for the FGCA and for Butternut recovery,” she said. “North American research indicates searching for genetically disease-tolerant Butternuts is one of the best strategies for recovery of this species,” she said. “We need to maintain as many trees as possible showing signs of tolerance to the Butternut canker and that have seed production capabilities across the range of Butternut to allow the exchange of genetic material and hopefully the production of the next generation of potentially tolerant trees.”

She thanked Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) for their work on the new archive orchard. “We are so happy to have Ausable Bayfield Conservation as our newest partner in this Butternut recovery effort and we look forward to a long and fruitful partnership together,” she said.

The creation of the seed archive orchard is possible thanks to help of species-at-risk funding from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP). “MECP has been integral for this archive,” said Zurbrigg. “They have funded more than half of this orchard with the Species at Risk Stewardship Program,” she said. “We are so thankful for all of the funding, facilitation of funding and in-kind partnerships we have received over the years from many organizations and we couldn’t have the robust Butternut recovery program we do without all of you.”

Ian Jean is Forestry and Land Stewardship Specialist with ABCA. He began his remarks at the ceremony by thanking the Triebner family for making it possible, in 2009, to acquire the Triebner Tract. The five-acre Butternut Archive sits in the northwest corner of this 100-acre tract of land. “I also want to recognize our local municipalities for their leadership and support in enabling the conservation authority to acquire and conserve these important land parcels and to enter into these important collaborative partnerships to conserve and restore the watershed and contribute to broader conservation initiatives such as Butternut recovery,” he said. The conservation authority, with support of federal and provincial funding partners, has been restoring habitat at the site including tree planting and wetland creation to complement the adjacent provincially significant wetland in Hay Swamp.

“The Butternut was an important tree for wildlife and for people,” Jean said. Historically, the nuts were a food source for First Nations peoples and settlers. “Butternut was quite common locally and grows very well on our local soils,” he said. “We believe this Butternut Archive Orchard site should grow very nice Butternut and we hope it will contribute to the recovery of this species.” He ended his remarks by saying “I love trees and everything about them and to be able to play a small part in species recovery is very special for me.”

Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson provided remarks that were read at the ceremony. “We live in a beautiful province with a bounty of natural resources and, as stewards of the land, it’s our job to protect and preserve it for future generations,” she said. “Initiatives like this allow us to do exactly that … I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing – you are paving the way towards a brighter, more environmentally-sustainable future for all Ontarians by maintaining the biodiversity within our forests, fields, and bodies of water. And, for that, you have my utmost thanks.”

Butternut is a species at risk throughout its natural range in Canada and the United States. Butternut is impacted by Butternut Canker (Ophiognomonia clavigignenti-juglandacearum) which is a fungus that affects the cambial layer of Butternut usually causing tree mortality. Once a common tree throughout eastern North America, 
Butternut is now uncommon and is listed as endangered under the Ontario’s provincial Endangered Species Act (ESA). Healthy Butternut are very rare and now considered too few and too far apart for natural recovery. Butternut trees on the landscape throughout the natural range of Butternut that are showing tolerance to the Butternut Canker are the foundation of the FGCA archiving recovery efforts. Archive orchards are planted with grafted trees grown from scions (twigs) collected from these healthy Butternut. Establishing archive orchards will enable cross-pollination and future seed production between tolerant trees to aid in the re-introduction of healthy Butternut on the landscape and recovery of Butternut in Ontario.

The Forest Gene Conservation Association is a not-for-profit organization in Ontario. FGCA’s goal is to assist forest practitioners to conserve and augment the genetic diversity of forests through Species Conservation, Seed Management Expertise, Climate Change Adaptation, and Education and Advocacy. FGCA partners with the government, forestry sector, not-for-profit organizations, landowners, conservation authorities and other groups on projects across southern Ontario.

Twenty people attended groundbreaking ceremony for Butternut Seed Orchard.

PHOTO INFORMATION: There were 20 people, including interested woodlot owners and project partners, who attended a groundbreaking ceremony, on Friday, August 18, 2023, at the new Butternut Archive Orchard at Triebner Tract near Exeter, Ontario. The new seed orchard, to help protect an Ontario species at risk, is a project of Forest Gene Conservation Association and local partner Ausable Bayfield Conservation.

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