The New Face of Island Forestry: PEI Woodlot Owners Encouraged and Equipped for Sustainable Harvests

Dan Dupont is a fourth generation forester from the Gaspesie region of east Quebec. An “Islander by choice” since 1997, he’s made it his business to re-imagine the woodlots of his adoptive home.

In many ways Island forestry was born from the second world war, he said, back when 70 per cent of PEI was dedicated to agriculture. This historic conflict called away Island farmers and in many cases, they never came home, leaving their properties without a permanent caretaker. Others still returned from the war entranced by the technological advancements of the age, forsaking rural living for urban opportunity.

In the end, said Dupond, thousand of acre of Island farmland went feral, and by the 1980s these properties had become a kingdom of White spruce, triggering Island forestry in its modern form.

“The only way to manage White spruce is to clearcut, unfortunately,” said Dupont. “They did it right, and they made a few bucks at it, but now we have to move to the next level. Clearcutting is a tool in the forester’s workbelt. Don’t always use the same tool.”

He shared these sentiments at a PEI Woodlot Owners Association workshop Saturday, April 14, entitled Your Woodlot, Your Resource. There he called the crowd’s attention to the clearcuts of the last couple decades and the diversity of trees growing in their place, either on their own or thanks to provincial plantings. This young mix, he said, presents PEI an opportunity to reclaim its original Acadian forests.

While some forest types require clearcutting, said Dupont, most don’t, and to achieve a sustainable, ecologically sensitive industry on PEI, different management techniques need to be brought to the forefront, in particular selective harvesting and thinning. Not only would careful silviculture treatments like these inject much needed diversity into Island woodlots, it would also speed up forest succession and encourage the growth of more mature, high value lumber.

To this end he’s founded Working Forest PEI, a private venture which offers these sustainable harvesting services to Island woodlots. Most equipment sold in North America is not well suited to this purpose, he said, being too wide, too heavy and too powerful to do anything except clearcut, but his purchase of a Jarcrac Dual from Europe, where such practices are routine, will allow exactly these services on PEI. Nimble, light and precise, this machine is ideal for avoiding soil compaction and cutting only desired trees. In a mere two months of taking appointments for his young business, Dupont has organized enough work for the next three years, a testament to the receptivity of Island woodlot owners.

“Ecologically, we’ve always done the bare minimum of what we’re told to do, because it costs money. This is where I find Prince Edward Island extremely interesting, because its government is supporting landowners, woodlots owners, to do the right thing ecologically. There’s a lot more to forests than trees.”

Forest Enhancement

The provincial support Dupont refers to is the Island’s Forest Enhancement Program, existing in one form or another since the 1980s and tailored in recent years to preserve, and restore, provincial ecology.

“It’s come that way in the last 15 years, where it’s not just about growing timber anymore,” said private forestry consultant Victor MacLeod of the program. “You need to factor in the environment now too.”

Working under the business title MurMac Forest Management Inc., MacLeod’s main service is the creation of forest management plans. With the aid of aerial maps and provincial data, he walks through all the forest stands of any give woodlot and records the composition, height, diametre, health and age of its trees, the diversity of its wildlife and undergrowth, its harvesting histories and anything else he deems relevant. With this he formulates the management plan, striking a balance between industry and ecology.

“You always try writing a plan that incorporates what the woodlot owner wants,” he said, “but also what the woods are capable of delivering.”

For example, in young stands he might advise thinning, in mature stand a selective harvest and in the case of plantations dominated by one tree, he’ll suggest the addition of native species to encourage the stand’s diversity going forward. All treatments steer toward sustainable management in the long run.

“There’s nothing wrong with clearcuts on a stand that needs to be clearcut,” he said, “but there are other ways to harvest mature stands. Add diversity to your woodlot and give yourself some options, because who knows what the markets will be like in the future.”

At the podium of Your Woodlot, Your Resource, MacLeod encouraged woodlot owners to apply for the provincial Forest Enhancement Program and receive its financial support in exactly these endeavours. Those accepted to the program could have the costs of a forest management plan partially covered, as well as post-harvesting costs such as replanting. There are also a variety of credits which can be earned to save money in the long run.

Both MacLeod and Dupont describe the Forest Enhancement Program as unique in Canada for its support of individual woodlot owners, and as a catalyst for the “bright future of Island forestry.”

Down Stream

The workshop’s common thread of sustainable forestry ran also through special guests such as the PEI Watershed Alliance, represented by watershed ecologist Derek Ellis. He explained that Island forests and woodlots provided ecosystem services such as the purification of air and water, habitat for innumerable species, the safeguarding of soils, carbon storage, stormwater retention and stream buffering. As such, our management of woodlots has tremendous consequences for the Island’s 24 watersheds.

“In the case of a clearcut, these ecosystem services are lost very rapidly,” he said, “and we see the effects in our streams and rivers across PEI. We like to work with woodlot owners to maintain their forests and avoid clearcuts wherever possible.”

Zack Metcalfe is a freelance journalist, author, and writer active across the Maritimes. This article was originally published with Atlantic Forestry Review.

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