In 1968 the United States federal government saw fit to establish Redwood National Park, an outstanding slice of the only Coastal redwood habitat on Earth, stretched along California’s west coast. These trees would lose over 90 per cent of their historic 2 million acre range in time – two thirds of the park itself were logged before its protection – but within these 58,000 acres at least, they would be allowed to recover and persevere.
The concept of biodiversity is relatively new to the mainstream, proposing that ecosystems can be appraised, so to speak, based on the variety of organisms they support. It states simply that a healthy forest cannot contain solely Balsam fir, nor a healthy river exclusively Atlantic salmon.
A keystone species is one which supports a significant sum of its home ecosystem, not unlike a load-bearing wall in you house. Remove any old wall and the structure will survive, but destroy that which bears load, and collapse ensues.
I grew up with the Eastern white cedar, with the soothing smell of its lumber and the playful snapping of its waxy leaves when tossed into a campfire. The peeling, almost tissue quality of its bark and the swooping structure of its trunk defined the Ontario swamps I walked through as a young man, and when I moved to the East Coast I felt their absence. So when I saw my first local specimen a few weeks back, after years without, it was like catching up with an old friend.
There can be difficult interviews in my line of work, where a person needs to be prompted with questions every few seconds to keep them talking. There are also easy ones, where a person shares the relevant details with little effort on my part. And then there’s Nick Hill…
The Eastern Mountain Avens is a very particular plant, preferring uncrowded soils with poor nutrition and excessive moisture where it thrives in a near complete lack of competition. This flower is adapted to harshness, it’s fair to say, at one time thought to have populated the alpine and tundra zones of the Canadian north until its eviction during the last ice age.
Knowing Prince Edward Island, one doesn’t expect a rich natural history. Surrounding provinces contain regions of surviving wilderness with larger examples of life, while visitors to the Gentle Isle might easily assume it was always an expanse of farmland and pasture with the occasional vacant lot. At least that was my impression, upon my first youthful visit over a decade back – a province of exceptional beauty, but with very few surprises.
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.
Tracking down a specific tree in Nova Scotia is like hunting a grain of sand on Prince Edward Island or a cob of corn in southern Ontario, but I found it all the same, on an undisclosed dirt road in Nova Scotia’s Hants County. Its species once accounted for a full quarter of all tree in the mixed deciduous forest of eastern North America, conquering habitat from southern New England to the Appalachian mountains and northward into Ontario. In front of me was the king of the forest, as it was known, long since deposed – the American Chestnut.
It’s easy to lose yourself in old growth forest, your neck craned back to admire the towering canopy and your voice kept low as to not disturb the silence. Stepping into one is like entering a cathedral, and having its defining features pointed out is like an initiation into some exclusive club. And the more you see, the more lofty your membership.