Wood products are all around us – in our homes, in our furniture, and if you are reading a hard copy of this paper, you are holding a wood product in your hands. Our society is becoming more aware of the source of our food, and making choices to encourage responsible, sustainable food production, but what about wood?
In southern Ontario where mixed forests cover a vast portion of the land mass, it is easy to take this abundant natural resource for granted, but many of these forests did not arrive here naturally. Settlers in the 1800 cleared large swathes of land for agricultural purposes only to discover that this created severe erosion and flooding issues on exposed land that was often unsuitable for farming. Many of these plots of land were eventually abandoned. Such was the case of the property known as the McMahon farm currently owned by Jill Williams, which sits between the 4th Line and the northern boundary of the Ganaraska forest.
During the 1930’s the Ontario government initiated an extensive reforestation program through four provincial nurseries to develop large pine and spruce plantations on municipal and conservation property throughout southern Ontario, efforts which continued to the 1990s. One such plantation can be seen on the east side Highway 115 south of Pontypool. Recognizing the importance of woodlands in erosion control, recharging groundwater and providing habitat, Recently new threats to our forests have arrived in the form of imported insects, diseases and invasive species that have decimated some native species including the American Chestnut, Elm and Beech varieties as well as Butternut and Ash. Almost 90% of all Ontario forests are publicly owned in areas known as Crown Land.
Private woodlot owners are stewards of their natural resources, whether they embrace this responsibility or not. Forests provide environmental, economic and social benefits, and proactive woodlot management can not only provide income for the landowner through lumber sales, maple syrup production or firewood production, it can also improve the health of the forest.
Any woodlot can benefit from regular maintenance, which includes thinning the forest. By removing some trees, the competition for nutrients and light will be reduced, and the remaining specimens will flourish and encourage the natural regeneration process. Standing dead trees are retained as they provide habitat and are not competing with living trees.
Timber harvest is anything but a get-rich-quick endeavour. A viable timber harvest is likely possible every 12 to 18 years, meaning a lifetime of ownership will result in only two or three harvests. Tree marking and responsible harvesting are critical components in the protection of the future of the woodlot. Trees are identified for harvesting based on their age, health, and location and are removed to provide space for more desirable specimens; to remove defective stems, or because they are desirable crop trees of a marketable size.
The Williams property has been in the family since 1960 and the woodlot had never been harvested. An experienced gardener, Jill recognized that some judicious harvesting would actually benefit the forest. To address her 92 acres of woodland, she employed the services of Dave Pridham, Manager, Conservation Lands, Education and Stewardship Services to select trees destined for removal, marking each tree to identify its ultimate destination. Prime mature oak and maple logs were headed for a mill in Quebec where they will be used in the production of veneers and flooring, poplar logs go to a different mill for use in the production of crates and painted housing trim, and smaller pieces would be sold for firewood.
The actual harvest was conducted by JT Forestry Inc. owners Brant Jones and Curtis Tamblyn of Fenelon Falls. Trained in Fleming’s Forestry program, Jones spent 14 years working for the Ministry of Natural Resources before starting his own business five years ago, and is an experienced tree marker himself. Younger partner Tamblyn joined the firm out of high school, bringing years of discipline of being self-employed producing firewood. Each day during the harvest, the duo provided Williams with a listing of every tree felled including its size, its species and its destination to allow the landowner to keep track of their activities. An avid outdoorsperson, Williams often followed the harvest in person, walking the mature forest and discussing the progress of the project.
With over 35% of our land mass covered in forests, Canada controls 9% of the global forest. Public and private landowners are exercising more care in their forest management activities, recognizing their environmental, social and economic benefits. If you have a mature woodlot of 10 acres or more, it is worth investigating the possibility of a professional harvest, which may provide a modest income while improving the health of the forest. There are many resources available to guide decisions about forest management. For more information, visit www.ontario.ca/mnr or www.ont-woodlot-assoc.org KG