Module 7: Woodlot Ecology: Your Living Woodlot

Case Studies

Travis owns several woodlots in Lunenburg County, where he has excelled in managing them with an eye to the future. Virtually growing up in the woods, Travis has made a life-long study of the ecology of his forests, but is quick to point out that he still doesn't have all the answers.

"I manage my lots in the only way it can be done - slowly and carefully," Travis says. "It is important to maintain all the pieces of the puzzle, because if something is thrown away through neglect, we will likely miss it later when it's too late."

Walking through Travis' red oak, white pine and hemlock stands is like strolling in a well-tended garden. Nearly every tree is given an opportunity to develop to its full potential. Travis undertakes selection harvesting, crop tree release and crop tree pruning to select the best growing trees and provide them with as much light, space and nutrients as Nature can afford. Snag and cavity trees are maintained for wildlife use as much as possible, although working around dead trees can be a safety issue.

He is careful to reduce soil damage by operating during times of the year that the ground is dry. "It rarely freezes here now," Travis states, adding that 20 years ago there was more cold weather for longer periods. "Things are changing faster than they should," he says.

Looking after all the pieces mean that Travis has an abundance of forest vegetation, including witch hazel, wild raisin and huckleberry. These shrubs provide good wildlife habitat and their leaves add nutrients to the forest floor each autumn. "We have very rocky soil here, and every bit of natural fertilizer helps build a good soil base," he says.

Travis does all of his cutting by hand, using a chainsaw. "I'm a bit old-fashioned that way," he says, "but if you treat the forest the way it should be treated, it will pay big dividends in the future."

Figure 68:Travis manages his woodlots carefully, and spends much of his time planning.


Case Study 2

"You don't have many options when your whole woodlot is balsam fir and white spruce," says Rod, as he unhooks the tongs from a spruce log being pulled by a black Belgian named Chester. His entire 40-hectare (100-acre) woodlot was once agricultural fields which were abandoned soon after the Second World War.

All of Rod's trees are about the same age, creating challenges for his plan to convert his woodlot to an uneven-aged forest with several species of trees. He began cutting patches in the heavy softwood stands about 20 years ago, making openings where he thought that natural regeneration would occur. "I guess it's like clear cutting, but on a smaller scale," Rod says.

"One thing I want to avoid is highgrading - just taking the best and leaving the rest."

Figure 69:Horse logging is slow, but can be used in harvesting small patches of forest.

He had hoped that young spruce would eventually fill the harvested areas, but only a few patches of poor-quality fir became established. The fir doesn't look healthy. "I'm cutting 40-year-old trees that look like they're 60 and already have heart rot," he says. Sound 60-year-old fir is almost unheard of now. If climate change is responsible for this - and I think it is - I'm changing my ways for managing my woodlot, and keeping my options open."

"These soils were run-out a half-century ago," Rod says. "I dug a few soil pits a couple of years back and they didn't look promising." He found that a heavy organic layer from field sod was preventing new trees from growing, and moisture was quickly draining away through the loose gravel soils. Tests indicated that the soil was acidic, which could also prevent good growth for many species of plants.

Rod continues to keep his clearcuts small, and it is often necessary to clean up wind-thrown trees along the edges. "There is a hardpan layer about a foot under the surface that keeps the roots shallow, leading to lots of tossed trees," he says.

Determined to break up the age classes and improve the soil of his woodlot, Rod has planted most of the patch cuts with white pine, hemlock and red spruce. "So far the results look promising," he says, "but it will take another 20 years before my lot will be where I'd like it to be: an uneven-aged forest with six or eight tree species native to the Acadian region."

Figure 70:Openings are planted in a variety of tree species.

Undeterred by deer that browse the planted hardwoods, Rod has had to protect planted sugar maple, yellow birch and white ash with chicken-wire fencing. "It's expensive and time-consuming, but it's an investment," he states. "If I'm not prepared to put in a good effort, I shouldn't expect good results."



Case Study 3

The hardwood slopes of western Cape Breton are particularly magnificent in the fall as they catch the golden glow of the setting sun. It is in this place that Steve and Cathy see a bright future for their woodlot and their children. They are proud of the decisions and hard work that has brought the 100 hectare (247-acre) woodlot to its present condition.

"We learned that species like sugar maple thrives in the shade, and that yellow birch prefers to seed in fresh mineral soil, and ash and red maple are not so shade-tolerant," indicates Cathy. "We know that we have good forest soils on this slope, and we want to take full advantage of the ecology of the site to maintain a healthy forest. We've also heard that an insect called the emerald ash borer is a potential future threat, so we're not concentrating on managing for ash."

Figure 71:Tolerant hardwoods can be managed in uneven-aged stands.

Despite having a well-built network of roads, Steve and Cathy's woodlot also has lots of running water. Seeps and springs are plentiful among the hardwoods, and a small wetland has three rare plant species that Cathy has identified from field guidebooks. In two places where the roads cross watercourses, permits were needed and culverts were installed. "We were surprised that such large culverts were required, but in the spring a lot of water runs down this mountain," says Steve.

With the help of a local forestry contractor, Steve and Cathy are managing their woodlot using selection harvesting. At least four age classes of trees are represented on the woodlot, and they employed a forestry consultant to mark trees for the contractor to harvest. "We were happy to see wildlife trees chosen and retained for the future," says Cathy. "We know that fishers are using our woodlot, and a goshawk nest is close to the north boundary line. We want to preserve their habitat as much as possible, while still harvesting good quality trees for saw logs and others for fuel wood."

With their two young children, Steve and Cathy make weekend trips to the woodlot to revel in its natural beauty. Two vernal pools have been identified and no harvesting equipment is permitted to come close to these sites. The forest roads make good walking and cycling trails, and other paths cut through the woodlot for cross-country skiing.

Steve reflects, "I guess stewardship means different things to different people, but to us it simply means that we're looking after our property as best we can, hoping that our children will have a good opinion of what we've tried to accomplish."

Figure 72: Good decision-making leads to healthy woodlots and a solid future.