These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Matthew Syvenky helped save a forest.

After this 21-year-old Simon Fraser University student brought his community together to remove invasive species from a part of the Cariboo Heights forest in Burnaby, B.C., and rewild it, the City of Burnaby protected a larger portion of land previously slated for development.

Matthew Syvenky thanks a volunteer heading out after an afternoon of site maintenance. Photo by April Kornitsky

Tell us about your project.

After gaining support from Burnaby’s Cariboo Heights Forest Preservation Society and the necessary permits, I used my networks to bring over a dozen volunteers to a basketball court-sized site to pull over 500 kilograms of invasive Himalayan blackberry that had overgrown everything and plant the area with native grasses, shrubs and bushes.

The mayor, councillors and city staff visited the site and could see people cared enough about the land to take care of it. That meant they felt it appropriate to protect not just that site, but a much larger area from development.

We cleared and replanted with 30 native species in 2021. Two years later, the site teems with biodiversity and the forest forms an important greenway for wildlife. People use the previously overgrown area’s trails for recreation and the forest for cooling during the increasingly hot summers.

How did you get started?

Matthew Syvenky, 21, brought his community together to remove invasive species from a part of the Cariboo Heights forest in Burnaby, B.C., and rewild it. #YouthClimateAction

I had a break before starting university and I needed something to do. I looked for volunteering opportunities to be outside and get some exercise. The Invasive Species Council of British Columbia welcomed me and I participated in similar projects elsewhere in the region learning about the relatively simple ways we can help heal the land if people work together.

I enrolled in the Canadian Conservation Corps and chose this project for my required leadership program because it was right in my neighbourhood.

Matthew Syvenky and Cariboo Heights Forest Preservation Society board member Carol during a rainy blackberry removal day. Photo by Utta Gagel

What was challenging about it?

I had to make a decision to lead. Fortunately, both the Invasive Species Council and the Cariboo Heights Forest Preservation Society supported and mentored me. The site is on a BC Hydro transmission line right-of-way and I had to meet their requirements, such as not using heavy equipment and choosing plants that would not grow too tall.

I wanted the city’s staff to know what I was doing so they would support it and so I learned about working with them too. But the collaboration was good. The permits were granted and the funding even came into place in only four months.

What do you see as the future of work like this?

“Community forests” is a powerful idea. Volunteers from age 16 to 66 saw their efforts make a tangible difference and now the whole community benefits. Decision-makers saw community support for protecting some of the land even when new housing is such an urgent need.

As a board member of the Cariboo Heights Forest Preservation Society, Matthew Syvenky helps collect water quality data from a pond in the forest. Photo by April Kornitsky

Have you done other projects like this?

More recently, I helped enhance a nearby watercourse, Salamander Creek, by helping to lead the removal of 700 kilograms of the same Himalayan blackberry bushes and rewilding with 15 native trees, shrubs and other native plants so it is now also a biodiverse ecosystem.

What would you like to say to other young people?

Two days ago, I helped pull ivy. It was just a couple of hours but my whole day was better knowing I made a difference. It is harder to be overwhelmed by climate distress if you can see your work matters. There are thousands of people doing this and together we are making a larger impact. As we work, we also build relationships. What might seem small to us is big for other reasons.

How about older readers?

I am on several community boards and I am the youngest on all of them. I am so appreciative of the time, skill and caring older people are bringing to this work to make the future they may not see better.