Walking along the Ramsey Lake boardwalk it is easy to forget that Sudbury was once known as “The Moonscape”. Where there is now lush greenery and tall trees, there was once just cold black rock as far as the eye could see. Extensive mining operations dating back to the founding of the city ravished the ecosystem. By the 1980’s Sudbury had a global reputation for pollution. At the time, the mines were the single largest emitter of sulfur dioxide in all of North America. It was clear that something needed to change.
Unfortunately, regreening the city wouldn’t be as simple as just planting trees. The mining industry (at the time) had created a web of various environmental issues that had to be untangled. The earliest mining operations in Sudbury used roast yards which decimated the number of trees in the area and released a huge amount of harmful smoke. Roast yards were giant open pits filled with raw ore that needed to be smelted down. The ore was placed on top of large logs and set on fire, the fires would burn for months without stopping. The roast yards were used for 40 years, during that time several forests were completely eliminated.
They then moved to smelters with smokestacks. The stacks raised the smoke further up in the air which reduced the impact the smoke had on the immediate areas but increased how far the smoke spread. Meaning more areas were now affected by harmful chemicals. The amount of sulfur dioxide being released into the air was causing severe acid rain. The acid rain poisoned lakes and stripped nutrients from the soil, making it impossible for plants to grow. The loss of this plant life on top of the loss of trees from the roast yards caused severe soil erosion. This meant with each passing day more and more soil was washed away, leaving nothing but bare black rock. All these issues combined to create Sudbury’s former landscape.
Fixing all these problems would require having all hands on deck. Mining companies, scientists, the government and the people of Sudbury all had to come together to make a change. The first issue that needed to be addressed was the chemical emissions from the smokestacks. Advanced filtration systems were developed and added to the stacks. Over time, filtration has reduced up to 90% of harmful emissions released from the mines.
Next, the soil had to be repaired to allow for plant life to return. First, scientists added crushed limestone which reduced the acidity in the soil from the acid rain. Second, they added fertilizer to give the soil back the nutrients that had been washed away. The initial thing planted in the repaired soil was grass. Grass was chosen because it grew quickly and because the roots of the grass helped to hold down the soil, preventing more erosion. On top of that, every year when the top layer of the grass died, it decomposed and created soil and natural fertilizer. This meant that each year the grass could grow, the healthier the soil would become.
Eventually, the soil was healthy enough for trees to be planted. In 1978 the replanting effort started. The people of Sudbury came out in huge numbers to help the planting. Over 40 years the people of Sudbury have planted 10 million trees in the area. If those trees were planted in a straight line, they would stretch all the way across Canada and back!
While this effort is amazing, Sudbury is still only about halfway to completely repairing the local ecosystem. There are still plants and animals that need to return, millions of trees still need to be planted, and more green mining technology needs to be developed. So much change has come in the 40 years since regreening efforts have started in Sudbury, just imagine where the city will be at the end of the next 40 years. WE CAN GROW GREATER!