Pileated woodpecker

Forest health

The Nature of PEI | by Gary Schneider

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When I do talks or teach courses on forest ecology, my presentations generally have one thing to read. It is a wise quote by a Forest Ecologist named Ken Lertzman. Dr. Lertzman teaches at Simon Fraser University, and here is his quote: “New Forestry is an attempt to define forest management with timber production as a by-product of its primary function: sustaining biological diversity and maintaining long-term ecosystem health.”

After many times reading and re-reading the quote, I realized that it really is that simple. Healthy forests give us so much—clean air and water, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, and places for all sorts of recreation, whether you’re a recreational fisher or a birdwatcher.

Once we can appreciate and understand all this, we will do our best to protect this incredible resource. And also strive to create more healthy forests, in order to receive even more benefits.

The key to Dr. Lertzman’s quote is that, in this view, timber management becomes a “by-product” of a healthy forest. There are lots of products that come out of forests, everything from lumber and fuelwood to fiddleheads and medicinal plants. All can be harvested, but not to the detriment of the health of the forest. We need to learn about these species, and how to sustainably harvest them.

One thing we can no longer afford to do is to keep clearcutting large blocks of forests and pretending that we’re carrying out good forest management. The previous provincial Minister in charge of forestry told me in a meeting that the wood being harvested for the provincial biomass burners came from sustainably-harvested forests. I politely told him that wasn’t true; that most, if not all, these wood chips came from clearcuts that we actually don’t even bother to monitor.

I’m hopeful that our new government and the Opposition parties, will work together to place PEI in the forefront of “New Forestry.” It is not a matter of telling the public what to do, but of providing incentives for practices that benefit all Islanders.

Instead of rewarding landowners who clearcut their properties by providing heavily subsidized plantations, it is the thousands of taxpaying landowners whose forests store carbon, clean air and water, and provide wonderful habitat for many species of wildlife that deserve our support.

Sometimes I mourn for our wildlife, especially when I see entire forests being cut during the prime bird breeding season. The barred owls, the pileated woodpeckers, even our chickadees and nuthatches are dependent on trees for their very survival. What happens to our wood frogs and salamanders when their habitat is destroyed? How do our shade-loving plants survive under without a canopy of trees? You just need to drive around the province to see clearcuts happening at an alarming rate.

Change is coming in how we treat forests. Just look at our neighbouring provinces. In Nova Scotia, respected conservation organizations are taking government to court for not protecting species at risk. And the “No Pipe” protests about the Pictou pulp mill have opened up critical discussions on whether so much of their public forests should be ceded over to multinational companies that are bleeding money and resources out of the province.

In New Brunswick, people are actually starting to talk and report about the forest subsidies that the Irvings have received, and the impact that massive harvesting has had on the province. It has gotten so bad that people are losing their fear of speaking out against this giant.

We have a chance to start doing things differently. And I believe that we will.

Gary SchneiderThe Nature of PEI
Gary Schneider

Gary began writing for The Buzz in the May 2018 issue. He co-chairs ECO-PEI and started the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project in 1991. The project demonstrates ecologically-sound forest management, with a focus on environmental education, conservation of rare plants, and the restoration of PEI’s native forest. He is an avid birder and lives in Tea Hill.