Dig it: SFU community plants 2,000 trees during 4th annual Environmental Stewardship Challenge

October 31, 2019

By Pam Lim

As far as classrooms go, it’s tough to beat Boundary Bay Regional Park. From beach dunes and tidal flats to forests and meadows, the park’s landscape rivals some of B. C’s most diverse ecosystems.

The park was the venue for the SFU Faculty of Environment’s 4th annual Environmental Stewardship Challenge, a partnership between SFU Alumni, SFU Sustainability and Metro Vancouver Regional Parks. More than 100 participants rose to this year’s challenge, planting 2,000 native trees in two hours to help restore Boundary Bay’s ecosystem after removing an encroachment of Himalayan blackberry.

“The Environmental Stewardship Challenge brings the classroom outside,” says Marnie Branfireun, lecturer with the faculty’s School of Environmental Science.

“It’s very gratifying for students to step outside, roll up their sleeves and experience nature in a different way. More than that, students find confidence and purpose in applying their skills to real-world issues like climate change and ecological restoration. They’re passionate about protecting our future and that’s exciting to see.”

Armed with arbutus, bitter cherry, sword fern and salmonberry, high school students, volunteers from Delta Community Living Society, and SFU students, staff, faculty and alumni spread out and went to work. The newly planted trees and shrubs increase biodiversity and provide food and habitat for native birds, pollinators and other wildlife.

“This is the first time we’ve done something like this,” says Kimberley Hlina, a social justice teacher at South Delta Secondary. “The students were keen to come, and it’s an issue that’s close to home for many.”

Alumni also took time away from their jobs to reconnect with nature and old friends.

“I participated in the challenge last year, and it was so much fun,” says Khang Diep, a biological field technician and an environmental science alumnus. “It’s win-win. We get to reconnect with friends and really make a difference.”

“Events like this forge stronger connections to ecosystems and build a greater sense of community,” says Branfireun. “It’s a chance to meet our neighbours, to get our hands dirty and to give back.”

With muddy feet and happy hearts, one plant at a time, the challenge’s participants remind us that the environment is more than you think.