By Ian Ross
Forestry companies in the Algoma area opened their woodlots and plantations for viewing and scrutiny as part of an effort to keep the public informed on forestry practices.
During August and September, the Algoma Forest Coalition, comprised of Domtar, G-P Flakeboard, Midway Lumber, St. Marys Paper, Weyerhaeuser, Mason Windows and Clergue Forest Management, staged a series of day-long tours of local mill sites, protected preserves, cutting areas and tree plantations north of Sault Ste. Marie.
Jim Miller, Clergue’s general manager, explained some of the philosophies in forestry and the silvicultural systems, such as clear-cutting and selection harvesting, which is based on the age and species of tree, the ecology of the site and its effect on wildlife.
In some areas where clearcutting had taken place near Garden Lake, Miller pointed out the patterns of cutting used were designed to mirror the burn pattern of a forest fire, with no hard, square edges.
At selection-harvesting sites, individual snag trees and chicots (dead trees) are left standing, along with debris left behind by harvesters for animal habitat. The stumps left knee-high help encourage regenerative growth.
Trees of poor-quality hardwood are marked for pulp wood as a means of improving the overall quality of the stand.
In a seed orchard, foresters gather cones from black spruce and use the seeds inside to replanted harvested areas.
Miller also covered a wide range of the ongoing issues and challenges faced by the forest industry, including the long-running cross-border squabble over softwood lumber, which he blamed on the “insidious” practice among prominent U. S. landowners to jack up their domestic lumber prices by shutting out Canadian product.
“Our way of life is at stake here.”
Miller calls Ontario’s public Crown forests one of the most “unique forms of forest management in the world.”
Through a long-term agreement with the Crown, wood supply for area mills is guaranteed as long as sustainable forest practices are adhered to.
Recently Clergue and some northern forest companies in the Wawa and Timmins area drew criticism from conservation groups, including Earthroots, claiming Ontario’s clear-cutting limts are being flouted with cuts larger than the 260-hectare limit as prescribed under the province’s Environmental Assessment Board in 1994.
Clergue is the sustainable forest licence provider for the Wawa management unit.
Earthroots claims 992 hectares in St. Germaine Township exceeds the limit, but Miller says the cuts are allowable if there are “sound ecological reasons for doing it.”
Using a detailed template prepared by the Ministry of Natural Resources, the cut is based on the province’s historical records of natural fires in the area.
“It’s the best science we’ve got in terms of giving us some direction for the range of clearcut size.
“It’s unfortunate that it is such an emotional debate because our opportunity to look at the pros and cons in a scientific way gets missed here.”
Miller says smaller cuts spread over the landscape would “totally fragment” the forest and cause greater ecological damage than larger cuts.
“We would be changing the complexion totally and completely over time if there were nothing but tiny cuts, and that would be very significant in an ecological context. We would be doing longer-term ecological harm because we would change the forest mosaic by doing that.”
In the Wawa forest, the best silviculture practice to regenerate the stands of jack pine, black spruce, poplar and birch is clearcut, Miller says.
Another controversial issue, the politically charged Lands for Life - (now Living Legacy) process, Miller calls “a stroke of genius” on the province’s part.
It built consensus between the forestry industry, environmental groups and the Ministry of Natural Resources - three parties that have traditionally been at loggerheads, he says.
“I think that’s a good news story that hasn’t been successful elsewhere in North America. Here we’ve orchestrated it so everybody gave a little bit and took a little bit.”
The doomsday scenario of possible mill closures predicted at the outset of the process by nervous industry executives never materialized and the forest accord signed by loggers, environmentalists and the province ensured sustainable wood supply, forestry to grow more wood and a mechanism for an expanded parks program, Miller says.