Healthier forests

The Nature of PEI by Gary Schneider

Forestry Commission tour of the Glenaladale woodland.
Photo by PEI Forestry Commission

On Prince Edward Island, many of our rare plant species are linked to how we’ve treated our forests over the past three centuries. We have lots of coastal areas, windbreaks, fields, wetlands, even bogs (though some of these continue to be under pressure), but we lack large blocks of older forests.

While we still don’t have any provincial legislation protecting locally rare and endangered species of flora or fauna, we do know that many of our rarities are in that situation due to habitat loss. Forest management can have a significant impact on wildlife—both positive and negative.   

Barred owls are relatively common on PEI but run into problems because for the most part they nest in cavities and those wildlife trees must be large enough to not only house the birds but also to remain standing. The size of their territory varies, but in Michigan the home range of barred owls is about a square mile. They tend to favour mixed forests that are 80 years or older. 

Other species, especially some of the migratory warblers, are adversely affected by forest fragmentation, a condition common both in individual woodlands and certainly when viewing larger blocks. The excess of forest edge allows predators such as cats, raccoons and blue jays easy access to the eggs and nesting young. Nesting success of birds such as black-throated blue warblers, red-eyed vireos, and ovenbirds are much higher in larger blocks of continuous woodlands.

A recent initiative has the potential to bring benefits to both humans and wildlife. I was asked to be a member of the PEI Forestry Commission by its Chair, Jean-Paul Arsenault, who I knew from my days on the Provincial Round Table on Resource Land Use and Stewardship. Jean-Paul was the Executive Secretary of that group and did a great job bringing people together from different sectors. For this Commission, he has gathered thirteen people with expertise in watersheds, wildlife, forest management, Indigenous issues, native plants, and the forest industry (both harvesting and planting).

The group has toured many sites across the province. We’ve visited sawmills and wood chip producers, looked at provincial properties—including forest wildlife management areas—and private woodlands. Other stops included a wood chip burner that produces heat for a provincial building, and several nurseries. We’ve listened to forest technicians, viewed different harvesting operations, and toured a watershed being restored.

One of most exciting parts of the Commission’s mandate is that it will: “Assist the Department to develop a new Forest Policy for Prince Edward Island.” We are long overdue for a new Forest Policy, the last one came together in 2006. Much has happened since then, including witnessing the effects of significant storms and the raising of public awareness about the wide range of values that forests can provide.

The previous policy was aided by the hundreds of Islanders who showed up at meetings across the province to discuss all kinds of issues related to forests. I think everyone was surprised at the public interest and turnout. And this was reflected in improvements to the policy at that time.

In order to gather public input, the Forestry Commission is producing a discussion paper, and will host a series of meetings across the province. These meetings will provide a place to talk about anything related to forests—including climate change, wildlife, carbon storage, biodiversity, and forest harvesting.

There will be notices of the meetings in the media and on the Commission’s website (princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/environment-energy-and-climate-action/pei-forestry-commission). We welcome your participation.