Module 14: Hiring and Working with a Woodland Contractor

Module 14 - Lesson 1 - Case Study 1

Sally and George Wood are avid fly fishermen. In particular,  they enjoyed fishing for Atlantic salmon,  to the point of spending two weeks every summer on the Margaree River in Cape Breton. Because they are non-residents they required a guide, whom they hired every year and whose name is John.

The Woods are from Massachusetts, and each year stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in Northeast Margaree. They were always sorry to leave, not just because of the fishing, but because they  enjoyed the great hospitality extended to them each time they visited Cape Breton.

One January  they had a call from John, their guide, who usually spent the winter guiding bonefish anglers in Key West. John told them he had heard a 61-hectare (150-acre) property was for sale in the Margaree Valley, but it was undeveloped and “off the beaten track”. A call to a real estate agent in Margaree Harbour confirmed the property was indeed for sale and would they like to pop up and  have  a look at it?” Although this was out of the question, the Woods made arrangements  to purchase the property immediately.

On their next trip to the Margaree,  the Woods were anxious to view their new acquisition.  With the help of their B&B host and a topographic map, they set out on their voyage of discovery. They soon found  their  rented  SUV was adequate to the task of taking them across a washed-out culvert, down a rutted road, and around a mountain  to where their property was situated.

The road ended in a maze of alders, but George and Sally found a real estate sign face-down in the ditch and knew they had arrived. A quick hike through the alders and into an overgrown field confirmed their greatest hopes: they were owners of a woodland property near the Margaree River!


The sun was sinking low as George and Sally climbed the path that followed the sparkling  stream into the side of the mountain.  George, with sweat stinging his eyes, noticed flashes of gold in all directions. The sun was playing tricks.

But no, the trees actually  appeared to be made of sheets of gold. Looking closer, it was a species of birch George did not recognize, with bark that was tighter and shinier than the paper birch back in Massachusetts. Well, he was intrigued.

The next morning  George awoke excited. He let John guide Sally down to their favorite pool while he phoned an old acquaintance in Baddeck. “Where can I find  out more about my property?” he asked.

There is a local  forest owners’ partnership,” his friend replied. “They’ve helped  me on many occasions and  I’m sure  they would be happy to help you too.

It took a couple of tries, but on the second call a forest technician  named Barry answered. George identified himself and mentioned he had just acquired a property in the Margaree Valley. “Can you come out and  have  a look?” asked George. Tomorrow, replied Barry.

While George wasn’t keen on missing  two fishing days in a row, he met Barry near the washed-out culvert. I’ll have  to hitch a ride  with you from here,” said Barry as he got out of his Corolla and got into the passenger seat of the SUV. They drove as far as the road would take them, and struck off through the alders. A snipe thundered past them as they entered the tangle of alders and hawthorn trees. “That’s a good sign,” stated Barry.

As they walked through the old field, a dark bird rose from the tall grass in front of them and glided down the hill. “Northern harrier,” said Barry. “They’re good for keeping  the mice population down. There must  be a nest close  by.” They watched as the raptor winged slowly across the hillside, its white tail patch stark against the backdrop of trees, seemingly  in no great hurry.

Entering the edge of the woods, the trees stretched away on either side. “You’ve got a great property here,” said Barry. “There is good quality sugar maple and  yellow birch  which have  tremendous potential, and  plenty of poor quality balsam fir which should be harvested soon  because it has begun to decline in growth and  has developed heart rot.

Yellow what?” asked George.

As Barry explained the growth characteristics and habitat  of yellow birch, George could see it would take this kind of specialized knowledge to properly manage his woodland. As they  walked back to the vehicle, George was convinced letting experts such as Barry manage their woodland was the best way forward. Barry suggested a stewardship plan would be a good first step. After a conversation with Sally over supper at the B&B, in which she agreed to proceed, George phoned Barry on his cell phone. “Okay, let’s go ahead with a stewardship plan,”  he stated.

With the excitement  of landing five salmon etched in their memories, George and Sally returned to Massachusetts at the end of the

second week. By the end of September, Barry had emailed them a stewardship plan for their approval.  By teleconference,  they discussed the possibilities of building  a road into the property. “You really only need to upgrade the existing road,”  said Barry. “It will be a lot less expensive than  a new  road.

But isn’t there a better  route?”  asked George.

The old folks usually knew the best locations for roads,” replied Barry. “Once there are proper ditches, you’ll think it was a brand new  road. I can arrange a contractor if you’d like.

A contract was exchanged by email and the work began that fall. Every week, Barry would send George updated photos of the road. Once the ditches were in place, the road surface dried out almost immediately. As the road was extended into the old field, Barry was careful to steer its route away from the nesting area of the harrier.  Those birds were valuable in keeping down the field mice and vole populations that were a menace to young tree plantations.  While the raptors were not nesting this late in the season, they often returned to the same area each year.

The following spring, George was anxious  to find out how his road had weathered the winter. “Just fine,”  said Barry. “And once the sap settles down, we can start thinking  about getting some of that fir out of the hardwood, and  really putting your road  to work. We have  a harvesting contractor that specializes in that sort of treatment, and  we have  good markets  for the fir as soon  as we can truck it.

Do we need to sign  another contract?” asked George.

No, you’ve already got a contract with our partnership, so that’s all we need,” replied Barry.

As the year progressed, the Wood property became a beehive of activity. A local contractor carried out a selection harvest over much of the property, and George was pleasantly  surprised by the after-tax stumpage cheque he received for the harvested over-mature fir. “Time for new  fishing gear,” he said.

Time to think about building a cabin,” Sally replied.

The cabin has been gazing over the Margaree River for more than ten years now, and the Woods return each summer to fish and relax and walk in their woodland. George’s favorite tree is yellow birch, and he and Sally have chosen and pruned more than a thousand trees in their walks together. As they  sit on the porch,  they  can almost see the salmon holding in the pools.

But best of all, their cabin is still wonderfully free of mice.