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Thursday, 17 December 2015 13:09

Making way for healthy forests

Kawartha Conservation's approach to responsible plantation management 

It was November when I visited Durham East Cross Forest Conservation Area, and stood in the middle of a 15-20 acre sand flat which is home to a Red Pine plantation. Beneath my feet, where trees once stood, were bare rows cloaked with piles of evergreen branches. Kawartha Conservation had selected a harvesting company to cut, remove, and transport some of the red pine product from the plantation. By the end of the harvesting, close to 4,000 trees would be harvested from this area.

In fact, harvesting trees in a sustainable, controlled manner is vital to keeping our woodlots and forests healthy, especially those woodlots that started life as plantations. The giant harvesting machines in front of me were partners in a process which would encourage the good health of the entire forest.To the untrained eye, what I was witnessing might appear to be a contradiction of values. Why would the Conservation Authority that manages this Conservation Area cut down some of the trees?

Picture yourself riding on an overcrowded bus with some of the passengers around you sick. Everyone is uncomfortable and competing for space and the germs that your neighbors are spreading with each cough and sneeze could make you just as ill. Similar to this example of the bus, trees can sometimes become just as uncomfortable and crowded when growing in plantations such as the one at Durham East Cross. For the trees however, sharing a cramped space with too many neighbours can carry more serious complications than our common cold.

When establishing a conifer plantation, proper management strategies recommend that trees

Lack of sunlight is not the only threat to the health of the crowded trees. A problem such as Red Pine Pocket Decline, which is transferred from one tree to the next through underground root systems, spreads much faster if trees grow very close to one another. The additional room provided by thinning ensures that diseases like Red Pine Pocket Decline will spread at a much slower pace, likely affecting only some trees rather than the entire plantation. In addition, by reducing the number of large trees, the remaining trees will grow stronger root systems and wider trunks, making them more resilient to high winds and ice storms. be planted very close to one another. This tight proximity forces the trees to consistently grow upright and protects against potential disease and insect infestation in the initial stages of growth. However, as the trees grow tall their canopies begin to overcrowd and they should be thinned every 10 years, beginning when they are 30 - 35 years old. This thinning will open up the canopy and allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor, which will promote the transition of the plantation from what is called a ‘monoculture’, or single species, to a more natural mixed species stand. Prior to this harvest, an Associate Member of the Ontario Professional Foresters’ Association assisted in selecting each of the trees that would be removed.

Each of the trees in this plantation are in competition with their neighbours for space for their roots and crowns, as well as nutrients, moisture, and sunlight. If the trees are not routinely thinned, all of the trees will eventually become stressed from overcrowding and become unhealthy. Thinning the plantation will provide the remaining trees with increased amounts of sunlight, and will allow them to grow taller, and develop healthier crowns with more foliage. Additionally, the branches which are left on the ground following the harvest will provide nutrients for the soil below and create habitat for a variety of invertebrates, insects, and small mammals at the bottom of the food chain.

When selecting a timber company to carry out the thinning operations, Kawartha Conservation was cautious to consider only highly reputable operators that practice careful logging techniques. The successful company was Lavern Heideman & Sons Limited, of Eganville, Ontario. In 1999, this company was presented with the National Forest Stewardship Recognition Award “in recognition of their efforts to practice careful logging, with respect for other forest users, and to ensure that the public is aware of what their operations were trying to achieve”. Mechanical harvesting methods are preferred for conifer plantations, as they are more efficient, result in a more even distribution of limb debris, and cause less damage to the trees that remain after the harvest.

Not far from the plantation and the hum of the harvesting machines, I notice a group of smaller trees, soaking up the sunshine beaming down from the clear skies above. Twenty years from now, they too may require thinning to help improve the health of the forest. But today, the small trees can stand beside their taller neighbours, who can now also enjoy some much needed attention from the sun.

Jayme Hughes
Marketing & Communications Specialist
Kawartha Conservation