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Seed Champions | Issue No. 6

Meet Andrew Renaux of Leaf Ninjas, a leader in ecological restoration. Discover his innovative projects like the Yorkville Pond and Swale Bioengineering for sustainable solutions.

Meet Andrew

Andrew Renaux is a leader at Leaf Ninjas, dedicated to the mission of accelerating our capacity to restore positive ecological function. As a named inventor for Leaf Ninjas' remote autonomous solar irrigation systems, Andrew brings expertise in horticulture and engineering to the table. Working closely with a team of biologists, ecologists, and soil scientists, he develops economically viable solutions to Canada's ecological restoration challenges. By applying a fact-based approach to horticultural product design, Renaux has played a pivotal role in developing innovative techniques for native plant seed collection, bioengineering live-stake production, solar irrigation, and pre-established erosion control products. His work is critical to solving the unique ecological restoration problems facing the country.

Rewilding for a Sustainable Tomorrow

Wilder Climate Solutions (WCS): Take us through one of your most memorable restoration expeditions with Leaf Ninjas! What were some of the unique ecological challenges you faced and the innovative solutions your team applied? Feel free to share any photos or anecdotes from the expedition.

Andrew Renaux (AR): One of my most memorable restoration expeditions with Leaf Ninjas was the Yorkville Pond Project, a stormwater management pond native plant restoration project in Calgary. This project presented unique ecological challenges as it required conserving 8 wetland species and 8000 plants in the face of urban development. At Leaf Ninjas, we aim to accelerate positive ecological function through innovative solutions and sustainable practices. A foundational part of developing these innovative solutions is the collaboration across a vast variety of experts.

Fig. 1 Installing communities of wetland plants at the high water line.

Fig 2. Pre disturbance wetland seed inventory visit.

The team’s innovative approach included thorough site assessment, targeted seed collection, meticulous propagation, and the use of shade and other techniques to align plant production with site development. We also constructed brush protection to prevent disturbances from waterfowl and closely monitored and watered the plants. Specifically, an innovative technique leveraged involved the use of plugs, such as the mint plug in the image below. We propagated seeds into plugs in our greenhouses so that they would be at the ideal developmental stage for planting to improve rates of plant survivability once planted. This expedition exemplified our dedication to blending urban development with ecological preservation.

Fig 3. Mint plug establishing.

Below, you'll find two striking images that tell the story of this project. The first image showcases the initial state of the pond, highlighting the challenges we faced with erosion and soil instability — like a "before" snapshot of the project. The second image, on the other hand, beautifully captures the transformation we achieved through our restoration efforts. Lush greenery, stable soil, and a thriving ecosystem — that's what you'll witness in this "after" photo.

Fig 4.1 The site before planting, mid-construction.

Fig 4.2 The site in at the end of the project, after establishment.

These pictures serve as a testament to the incredible impact of our restoration initiatives, showing that with dedication, innovation, and collaboration, we can truly make a difference in preserving our precious natural habitats.

WCS: In your work with Leaf Ninjas, you've been involved in various aspects of restoration, from native plant seed collection to pre-established erosion control products. Can you share a restoration success story that you are particularly proud of, and provide visual examples that showcase the transformation and impact of this project on the environment?

AR: One restoration project that stands out as a remarkable success for Leaf Ninjas is the two-year Swale Bioengineering Project. To set the scene for the project, the mine site near Fort McMurray was experiencing the overland flow of water, which caused erosion and put tailing ponds at risk. To address this ecological challenge, Leaf Ninjas implemented a comprehensive bioengineering project. We constructed a 1.9-kilometer-long swale, which is a shallow, broad, and vegetated depression designed to manage water runoff. This swale was equipped with soil bioengineering elements, including 40,000 live stakes and 200 structures, such as check slots and check dams.

Check slots are small, often narrow, channels or depressions created across the path of water flow. They serve to slow down the speed of water, reducing erosion by capturing sediment and encouraging its deposition.

Check dams are structures built across water channels, like streams or swales, to impound or slow down the flow of water. They are designed to reduce erosion, improve water quality, and promote sediment deposition.

In addition to these measures, we incorporated live fascines, which are bundles of live willow branches or twigs, bound together. These live fascines were strategically placed within the swale and along its edges to stabilize soil, slow water flow, and encourage the growth of vegetation.

Furthermore, we implemented rip rap, which involves placing large, durable rocks or stones along critical areas prone to erosion. These rocks formed a protective barrier along the swale, shorelines, and other vulnerable spots, effectively stabilizing the soil and preventing further degradation.

Our project also involved repairing third-party damage to the swale and co-supervising the planting of 1 million seedlings for revegetation efforts. Additionally, we conducted ongoing monitoring and reporting of completed work to ensure the long-term success of this ecological restoration endeavor. The pictures below depict the journey and progress of the lands over the course of the project. This project was seen as such a success because it exemplifies our commitment to innovative, sustainable solutions that harmonize development with ecological preservation.

The below images depict the restoration journey from site scoping through to establishment. It is truly amazing to see the results of the teams' work in how the land comes back to life.

WCS: Finally, as you explore Squiirrel’s Beta version, what features are you most excited to use in your work?

AR: We are most excited to list the seeds that we have collected over the years to make them available to the greater network and we are also very excited to post seeds that we are looking for support with on our collections for industry. Lots of the Leaf Ninjas are also excited to explore what seeds are available from our local area to enhance our own yards and gardens at home as well.