Boosting Biodiversity and Climate Resilience
By Maya Dutta
I was honored to work on creating the first Miyawaki Forest in the Northeastern United States, planted in Danehy Park in North Cambridge this September. Miyawaki Forests are dense, biodiverse pocket forests that aim to recreate the relationships and succession of a natural forest. By densely planting a very biodiverse array of native species, such forests encourage collaboration between the plants, fungal and microbial life in the soil, resulting in fast-growing forests with high survival rates.
They create self-sustaining ecosystems after the initial few years following planting. These plantings go on to boost biodiversity, support pollinators and other insects and animals, sequester carbon, filter air pollution, increase water absorption, buffer against flooding and erosion, and cool the surrounding areas. Miyawaki Forests can be created in areas as small as 1000 sq ft, which makes them particularly well suited to urban areas like Boston, where space is limited and we have plenty of heat, pollution, storms, and flooding.
At Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, I work with my colleagues to spread the knowledge and practice of ecosystem restoration. We explore how to combat climate change, short and long term, most effectively, locally and globally, by working with nature to boost biodiversity to protect and restore the intact ecosystems that make our planet livable. It was wonderful to take part in a local example of regeneration and connect to a wide community of people who feel passionately about making their neighborhood, city, and world a better place.
We put this forest together in partnership with SUGi. This Swiss-based organization funded part of the project and connected us with Ethan Bryson, a forest maker in their network, who directed our implementation of the Miyawaki method. We also worked extensively with Andrew Putnam, the Superintendent of Urban Forestry in Cambridge, and his colleagues in the city’s Department of Public Works. Our journey began with Ethan’s guidance on the Miyawaki method and its steps – site selection, soil survey, species selection, soil preparation, dense planting, and forest maintenance, resulting in a self-sustaining forest after the first three years.
Andrew and his team helped narrow down our site list and selected a location available in a short time frame. The city paid for part of the project, helping source plants from local nurseries and acquire compost and biochar to prepare the soil before planting. Most trees came from New England Wetland Plants, a nursery that has supplied city tree plantings in the past. We also received donated contributions from Russ Cohen and Walter Kittredge, who each run nurseries in the area. Over 100 volunteers came to plant the forest. Beginning in Spring 2022, Bio4Climate will oversee additional teams of volunteers as they steward the forest in its initial few years, periodically removing weeds that encroach the area. The forest is watered via an automated irrigation system in the park.
Along with his leadership on the Miyawaki method, our forest maker Ethan brought Marylee Jones, with her mother Marlene and daughter Joelle of the Yakama Nation, and Kat Livingston of the Navajo Nation. They helped us honor the tribal history of this land and the pain it holds and to recognize the possibility of the healing that comes with an honest acknowledgment of the past, hope for a better future, and the compassion and connection that can bridge them together.
Our wonderful teams of volunteers planted a multitude of species, creating what will develop into four vertical layers of forest – shrub, tree, mid-canopy and canopy levels. From the first central plantings of the sisters’ chokeberry (Aronia) and elderberry (Sambucus). We added maple (Acer), dogwood (Cornus ), sumac (Rhus ), white pine (Pinus strobus), hazelnut (Corylus americana), witch hazel (Hamamelis sp.), rose (Rosa virginiana), and others. They will flower and bloom at different times, change color and drop leaves, huddle underground under a blanket of winter snow. They create a new family in place, our children today and elders tomorrow.
Collaboration and deep connection make Miyawaki Forests so strong and it is also key to how people can both survive and even thrive in a world that is still being degraded. The forest is a testament to the vision and practice of restoration, making tangible what I have learned in lectures, classes, conferences, and my work with Bio4Climate, and giving those memories home in my heart.
It was an honor to participate in the creation of this forest with an extraordinary group of people. In planting these trees and shrubs, we created a community of life that will last much longer than any of us individually. We reinstated natural ecology on top of a city dump and witnessed firsthand how eco-restoration can heal biologically, chemically, spiritually and communally.
It has been so moving to see the enthusiasm for this project from individuals and organizations here and elsewhere. In addition to stewarding the Danehy Park Miyawaki Forest in the coming years, we are imagining what comes next for the city of Cambridge, surrounding communities in metro Boston, and cities and towns across the country and the world. This forest, which is the first in Cambridge and the entire Northeast US, will certainly not be the last.
To find out more, see photos and related resources, and stay tuned for updates, check out our Miyawaki Forest page.
About the Author
Maya Dutta is the Outreach and Operations Manager at Biodiversity for a Livable Climate and served as project manager for the Miyawaki Forest project. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each author appearing herein retains original copyright. Right to reproduce or disseminate all material herein, including to Columbia University Library’s CAUSEWAY Project, is otherwise reserved by ELA. Please contact ELA for permission to reprint.
Mention of products is not intended to constitute endorsement. Opinions expressed in this newsletter article do not necessarily represent those of ELA’s directors, staff, or members.