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The philosophy of Macphail Woods can best be described as restoration forestry, concentrating on the creation of diverse, high-value Acadian forests that will meet the long-term needs of both humans and wildlife.
Healthy forests are complex ecosystems, full of great beauty. They are incredibly valuable for many reasons, including ones that are difficult to measure. These include cleaning air and water, storing carbon both in the woody above-ground material and in the soil, providing homes for a wide variety of wildlife species, moderating stream temperatures and windspeeds, and providing places for recreation and relaxation.
As a culture we don’t know how to accurately value these benefits. We can’t always fix an exact price on these things but they are important. These benefits are often overlooked because they take too much time to measure, or we can’t model them on a computer, but we have to start putting values to them instead of pretending they don’t exist.
There are many excellent foresters and ecologists around the world calling for significant changes in the way our woodlands are managed. Dr. Ken Lertzman, who teaches Forest Ecology at Simon Fraser University, says that “New Forestry is an attempt to define forest management with timber production as a by-product of its primary function: sustaining biological diversity and maintaining long-term ecosystem health.” Part of our work on these properties will be to learn how to value the ecosystem and not just the wood products.
Forest management plans should promote, over the long term, a mix of appropriate plant species of all ages growing together in a healthy forest. The plant communities will reflect the soil types and moisture regimes as opposed to just being a result of past farming and forestry practices.
Ideally, trees will be removed when they are near the end of their life-cycle and in small amounts, as opposed to removing all of them in one operation. One example is the treatment of old field white spruce stands, common on many of the properties. These are dominated by white spruce and pose a major problem. The older white spruce is starting to die prematurely and will be coming down over the next ten to twenty years. As we have successfully demonstrated at the Macphail Woods property in Orwell, this can be done either through small patch cuts or strip cuts, instead of clear-cutting the entire stand. Our plan is to remove blocks of white spruce and use the remaining trees to provide shade and increase humidity levels. This will allow successful planting of shade-tolerant species such as sugar maple and white pine and to promote the growth of high-quality trees for the future.
Restoration Forestry should employ a variety of silvicultural techniques to create or enhance appropriate planting areas. Some firewood, especially of cankered beech, will be harvested when restoring the hardwood stands. In other areas, trembling aspen, balsam fir or pin cherry will be removed to create small openings for plantings.
Plantings should favour high-quality, long-lived species of trees and will include a wide mix of appropriate native tree and shrub species and some of our rarer wildflowers and ferns.
Throughout the process of restoration, we will be encouraging practices that lead to a forest full of long-lived trees and the accompanying plant communities that provide a wide array of values. A critical part of this forest community will include dead wood, both standing and on the ground. Sound forest management demands that wildlife trees are present throughout the forest cycle. We will actually plan for some of the trees to get old, die and fall down to the ground. Towards the end of their lives, these older trees can be excellent sources of seed for the surrounding forest and of great benefit to wildlife. Once they die and fall to the ground, they become nursery logs for the next generation of seedlings and provide nutrients and organic matter. This dead wood is a vital component of all healthy forests.
The 26 Public Forest properties being managed by ECO-PEI’s Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project are not protected natural areas. Their present state is due more to past farming and forestry practices than any natural processes. While there are some areas that contain beautiful older mixed wood stands, containing large hemlock, yellow birch and sugar maple, most of the land is actually in poor condition. They are full of plantations, over harvested mixed woods or old field white spruce and lack diversity in both species and age classes. There are numerous garbage dumps and large amounts of trees have been cut and left to rot in piles on the sides of woods roads. Much of the ground hemlock has been stolen from these properties.
Through restoration forestry, we will be working to improve these woodlands – both in quantity and quality – and reverse some of the past practices that have led to degraded ecosystems. The mainstays of our restoration will be the return of these woodlands to high-value, long-lived native trees such as red oak, yellow birch, sugar maple, white ash, white pine and red spruce – species that grow so well in our climate. These properties will also be excellent places to increase populations of our rarest trees and shrubs – everything from witch hazel to ironwood.
A realistic annual allowable cut will be developed that actually increases the standing volume of wood in these forests, which for the most part are quite young. While much of the work will involve planting and pruning, we will also be harvesting wood through thinnings, patch cuts, strip cuts and individual tree selection. Through innovative product development and niche marketing, we will maximize the value in the wood removed so that less harvesting provides more return. In this way, we can meet our needs while improving the woodlands.
Maximizing value will lead to increased employment for a well-trained workforce that cares about forest health – growing and planting trees and shrubs, tending those plantings, harvesting mushrooms, ground hemlock, fiddleheads and dozens of other products we may not even know about yet. Herb Hammond, a registered professional forester and author of “Seeing the Forest for the Trees”, talks about the employment potential of value-added wood manufacturing. He has found that milling 30 board feet of wood provides employment for 1 person for 1 minute. Using that wood to make a cabinet provides 1-2 weeks of work. Making violins from that wood provides 1 year of work. When we ship raw logs off this Island, especially given our finite land base, we are losing an incredible amount of potential to build employment.
Diversity and Wildlife
Healthy wildlife populations are an integral part of sound forest management and we will provide quality habitat for a wide variety of species – everything from salamanders to owls. Barred owls are relatively common on PEI, but run into problems because for the most part they nest in cavities and those wildlife trees must be large enough to not only house the birds but to remain standing. The size of their territory varies, but in Michigan their home range is about 1.5km square (about a square mile). They tend to favour mixed forests that are 80 years or older. Other species, especially some of the migratory warblers, are adversely affected by forest fragmentation, a condition common both in individual woodlands and certainly when viewing larger blocks. The excess of forest edge allows predators such as cats, raccoons and blue jays easy access to the eggs and nesting young. So the nesting success is much higher in larger blocks of continuous woodlands. Again, this fragmentation is difficult to control if you have a long piece of woodland and your neighbors may cut all they want on either side of you. That is why we will be looking to create larger blocks of continuous woodland that never face the risk of clear-cutting. We will be working with adjacent landowners to do larger-scale, long-term planning to encourage protection of certain species of both plants and animals.
The following “Harvesting Rules for Natural Selection Forestry” have been developed by Orville Camp, author of The Forest Farmer’s Handbook and president of the Forest Farm Association. Mr. Camp is a leading proponent of sustainable logging practices and natural selection forest management in Oregon and across the continent.
- Address forest needs first. In so doing, you will address yours.
- Always leave the stronger dominants. Leaving the strong dominant trees will provide the best genetic traits for new stocking in which to best survive environmental extremes. Leaving the strong dominant trees will help maintain the forest health and avoid paying a high ecological price over the long term.
- Harvest only those trees that nature has selected for removal. There are many indicators for determining which individuals nature has selected for removal. One of the best indicators, for example, is when two or more trees of the same age are competing for the same space and the growth rate of one starts tapering off. The one that starts tapering off with respect to the other is usually the one nature has selected out and can be removed. A major benefit in harvesting only naturally selected individuals is in being able to continue addressing the ecological needs of the forest ecosystem. Economically, the costs of using chemicals, slash burning and reforestation can be reduced to zero.
- Maintain suitable climate, soil and water conditions for all normally associated species. These three essentials determine what can live in a given area. Canopy dominants control all three of these conditions below and should not be removed if they will substantially alter the climate below.
- Maintain habitat suitable for providing food, shelter and reproduction needs for all normally associated species. All these needs must continue to be met for each species to survive.
- Maintain the natural selection system of “checks and balances” for keeping the forest ecosystem healthy and productive. There must be adequate populations of all normally associated species for maintaining the best system of checks and balances.
- Remove no more than what the forest is truly capable of producing at any given time. Overharvesting can substantially reduce production and seriously affect forest health or result in its death.
- “Do I feel certain about my decision?” The rule is: “When in doubt, don’t!” Get expert advice or evaluate the situation until you are satisfied with what you propose to do. You may never be able to replace what you are removing nor undo the damage caused by what you have removed. If you still can’t decide, it’s usually best not to do anything.