Urban Forestry at the UBC Farm: Uncovering the Potential

Laying out a quadrat for tree inventory
Laying out a quadrat for tree inventory

The UBC Farm is a 24-hectare agricultural production and conservation area located on the unceded and ancestral territory of the Musqueam First Nation on the UBC Vancouver campus.

Juxtaposed with the agricultural area at the UBC Farm is a large area of second-growth forest. This remnant forest, the largest contiguous forested area of campus, is composed of a variety of tree species common to the BC coastal zone, including western redcedar, coastal Douglas fir, western hemlock, big-leafed maple and red alder among others. While this forest is not currently actively managed, recent discussions between the Faculties of Forestry and Land and Food Systems have focused on the integration of agriculture and forestry at the UBC Farm in the form of agroforestry – agriculture incorporating the cultivation and conservation of trees. Indeed, a first start is the demarcation of the Agroforestry Trail that loops through the western section of the forest.

Despite close collaboration between the Forestry and LFS over the years, the composition and structure of the farm forest were, until recently, largely unknown. Without such information, it is difficult to determine the most appropriate management strategy for the remnant woodland, understand how it might be best used for future agroforestry projects, or decide how it can be better integrated into the broader UBC curriculum. Such inventories represent an essential tool for the future sustainable management of the remaining forest on the UBC Farm: in short, if we do not know what is there, we cannot manage it!

With support from the UBC Farm Seed Funding for Research Fund, my lab group committed to undertake a 100% inventory of the entire 12ha area of the Farm categorised as conservation forest, basically the large contiguous block that surrounds the agricultural fields. Emerging from our basements and garrets during the first lockdown, the inventory allowed us to work in socially-distanced pairs, moving slowly and systematically through the forest, providing much-needed social and occupational interaction during a difficult time for everyone.

Each tree over 10cm in diameter (dbh) was identified, measured and permanently tagged. To maintain consistency with the protocol used for the ongoing UBC campus tree inventory, other tree attributes measured included: status (e.g. alive, dead), tree height, height to crown base, crown width, percentage of canopy missing, and crown light exposure. Eleven months, four seasons and 4,914 trees later, the inventory was completed in early June.

Urban Forestry At The UBC Farm: Uncovering The Potential

The baseline dataset we have generated is now available for a wide array of further research. For example, taking the diameter and height measurements allows for an assessment of the carbon value of the farm forest, critical when UBC is focusing on green and sustainable growth and aspiring to become carbon neutral by 2050. Periodic measurements, (usually every five years), will provide information on recruitment and mortality, giving insights into the dynamics of this urban forest, including the long-term impacts of climate change in this area of BC. In addition, the inventory has provided the necessary baseline for further research on urban forestry, ecosystem services, biodiversity, climate change, potential sustainable timber production, and agroforestry, among others, to take place at UBC Farm. In short, it provides an unparalleled resource on campus for teaching and research.

Despite having so many other commitments and responsibilities, everyone who worked on the farm forest inventory did so on a voluntary basis and I would like to extend my gratitude to participating lab members and affiliates: Joli Borah, Alida O’Connor, Diling Liang, Winy Vasquez, Debbie Pierce, Abimbola Ilemobayo, Kate Sotolo, Maya Motyko, Jessy Hwang and Krystelle Saller. One day they might forgive me

Terry Sunderland is a Professor in the Department of Forest and Conservation Science. He can be contacted at terry.sunderland@ubc.ca.

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