Monday, July 6, 2009

Wildlflowers and shrubs as indicators

Herbaceous plants and shrubs found growing on a site can tell us a lot about conditions. The photo above and the first photo below show Jack in the Pulpit, which is native throughout the east coast of Canada and the United States. We don't often see this plant, but when we do see it, it is always on rich hardwood sites.

Below is a photo of Red-berried elder with the ripe berries. This shrub, which is a favorite of a variety of songbirds, is fairly common on well-drained sites.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ecosystem-based forest management

The photo above shows my partner, Sandy Hyde, looking up at a large spruce tree. This tree is not as old as you might think, because it is going on the rich mid slopes of the Cobequid Hills.

Forest managers must do much more than plan. We must be protectors and stewards of the land. To achieve this goal, many of us use an approach to management that is sometimes referred to as ecosystem-based forest management.

What are ecosystems?

Generally speaking, an ecosystem is a community of interacting organisms. Ecosystems generally have similar site conditions (i.e., soil, climate, moisture), and the species in a particular ecosystem are all adapted to these shared environmental conditions. Ecosystems vary from one place to another because of differences in physical characteristics (geology, soils, landforms, topography, and surface materials) and biological characteristics (vegetation, animals, and microbes).

Ecosystems can be found on land (terrestrial) or in the water (aquatic) and can be very large (for example the Earth) or relatively small (a local forest). Ecosystems usually overlap and are interconnected or are dependent on one another through various processes—for instance the water cycle.

The Acadian Forest, where we live, is an ecosystem that contains many different ecosystems. The mix of tree species and other vegetation within each Acadian Forest ecosystem depends on various factors:

  • site and soil conditions (aka moisture and nutrient regimes. For instance, wet to very dry sites and nutrient poor to rich fertile sites);
  • climate or microclimate (a microclimate is an area where the climate is different from the climate in surrounding areas);
  • the way humans have used the land (aka land-use patterns or human disturbances),
  • the frequency with which the ecosystem experiences naturally occurring events such as high winds, fires, lightning, and insect outbreaks (aka natural disturbance regimes); and
  • the forest’s current stage of development—that is, whether it is just beginning to grow back, is mature, is somewhere in between, or is a mixture of stages. This process of development from early stages to later stages, which all ecosystems go through, is referred to as natural or ecological succession.

How can we identify ecosystems in Nova Scotia?

In Nova Scotia we have two newly available tools that provide a good basis for identifying ecosystems across our landscape.

The Ecological Land Classification (ELC) for Nova Scotia uses information on climate, geology, soils, and so on to create maps of ecological groupings within the province at three levels: ecoregion, ecodistrict, and ecosection. The Acadian Forest Ecozone is divided first into 9 main ecoregions. These ecoregions are differentiated primarily by elevation and proximity to the ocean. For example, the Valley and Central Lowlands Ecoregion essentially extends from Digby to Truro surrounding the Minas Basin. The distinguishing feature of this ecoregion, as outlined in the ELC manual is that the ecoregion is “sheltered from coastal climatic influences with warmer summer temperatures and milder winters than elsewhere in the province”. These conditions bring forth a unique combination of soil and vegetation types.

The ecoregions are further subdivided into ecodistricts as classified by distinct combinations of geology, landforms, soils and vegetation. There are a total of 40 ecodistricts in Nova Scotia. The Valley and Central Lowlands Ecoregion, for example, contains 3 ecodistricts: the Annapolis Valley Ecodistrict (extending from Digby to Canning), the Central Lowlands Ecodistrict (includes much of Hants County), and the Minas Lowlands (extending from east of Truro to Bass River).

A more detailed, localized way of classifying a forest or forest stand is by ecotype. Ecotypes are broad ecological groupings with similar moisture and nutrient regimes that are reflected in similar growth (productivity) capabilities. Forest Ecosystem Classification (FEC) manuals for the central, west, and eastern regions of Nova Scotia define forest ecotypes according to their dominant soil and vegetation types. (The manuals for the west and east are interim versions. The NSDNR provincial manual is scheduled for publication in 2011.) They contain vegetation and soil identification keys, descriptions, photographs, and corresponding management interpretations for the various vegetation and soil types found in Nova Scotia.

Soil types are classified by moisture (wet, moist, fresh or dry), texture (coarse, medium, fine) and sometimes fertility (poor, medium, rich). Soil types can be easily identified in the field by digging a small soil pit and using the keys provided in the FEC manual to determine texture and type.

The photo above shows a clear, large American beech in a hardwood old growth forest near Mabou. It is estimated that these trees are about 200 years old, raising questions about why this tree was not affected by the beech canker disease that was introduced into Nova Scotia in the early 1900s.

Vegetation types are described in terms of dominant overstory tree species cover and understory vegetation species. Vegetation communities and particular species can be used as indicators of site productivity. For instance, a ground vegetation mix of Red baneberry, Rose twisted stalk, Oak fern and Beaked hazelnut is an indicator of soil richness and a site that will support a shade-tolerant hardwood mix forest of Sugar maple, Yellow birch, White ash, and American beech. On the other hand, a ground vegetation mix of Cinnamon fern, Dwarf raspberry, Starflower, Sphagnum moss, False holly and Lambkill is suited to wet and poor-to-medium fertility sites, thus serves as an indicator of a site that will support a mainly coniferous forest of Red spruce, Black spruce, and Balsam fir with a mix of Red maple, White birch, Yellow birch, and White pine.

The photo above shows a Yellow birch in the same old growth forest pictured in the previous photo. This forest was actually close to being entirely harvested until, at the last minute, it was purchased by the neighbouring forest owner. The trees stretch 22 meters into the sky. This forest is truly breathtaking to walk through, particularly when the leaves are off the trees.

Using the vegetation and soil type keys provided in the manual, ecosystems are classified into 10 ecotypes. These range from dry-poor conifer (i.e., rock barren) to very rich deciduous (i.e., floodplains). Once the ecotype of a site has been identified, the FEC manual provides management interpretations that address potential and operational hazards, including hazards associated with the particular soil type. Using the manual, the forest manager can develop appropriate prescriptions to ensure that activities on the ground are a success and not detrimental to the ecosystem.

For instance, an ecosystem with Soil type 12 as classified in the FEC manual (“Rich moist, fine—medium textured”) is prone to rutting, compaction, and erosion. Thus management recommendations made using an ecosystem-base approach will include measures to minimize this risk. Protecting the soil will, in turn, ensure that the site remains productive for many years to come.

In ecosystem-based forest management, tools such as these are very valuable. They are used to identify and apply management interpretations that reflect opportunities and address hazards and operational limitations associated with a site’s specific ecosystem (ecotype) . Incorporating such information into recommendations and operational planning will limit possible damage from harvesting and help to maintain both overall ecosystem health and site productivity for the long term. Together, the ELC and the FEC provide a valuable perspective on a woodlot at the landscape and forest stand level, allowing the forest manager to fully understand ecological processes at play.

What is ecosystem-based forest management?

In ecosystem-based forest management, forest managers try to determine the natural ecological process that should be occurring on a particular site. We then try to protect these processes while also achieving landowner’s goals, which may include not only timber production but also conservation, recreation, aesthetics, and other resource values and benefits. The key principles of EBFM are:
  • Manage the natural forest
  • Mimic natural processes, including natural disturbances
  • Maintain multiple forest values, benefits and uses
  • Prescribe site-specific treatments
  • Focus efforts where they will yield the best returns
  • Improve the quality and value of individual trees over time
  • Avoid predictable hazards
  • Maintain and protect long-term site productivity
  • Maintain and protect ecosystem functions and health
Once we understand the ecological processes in a particular forest unit, we understand the full potential of this unit and also hazards associated with working in it. This enables us to manage for the natural forest while maintaining multiple forest values, long-term site productivity and most importantly ecosystem health. By tailoring harvest practices to reflect what naturally occurs in the forest—and making sure that activities are undertaken during the appropriate times of the year—we are able to avoid negative effects on the forest ecosystem. EBFM balances ecological, economic and social values within a particular woodlot.

This approach to forest management respects the dynamic, changing character of the forest community and forest landscape. It takes a more holistic view of the forest and is especially appropriate for landowners whose goals and objectives are based on multiple values and use.

This item is drawn from two columns I wrote for the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators' "Update" newsletter and from a presentation Sandy Hyde made to the NSWOOA Annual General Meeting in April 2009.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Signs of spring

I took these pictures of mayflowers (above and right) on a woodlot on the Lahave River near Bakers Settlement. Mayflowers like to grow in harsh environments and are not too picky about how rich the sites are. The mayflowers I have seen lately are in clearcuts, along roadsides ... basically in the open. They smell so nice and are a sure sign of spring.

Another excellent sign of spring ... and why one should be careful when walking through the woods.

Above, a wood turtle enjoys spring sunshine on a deadhead, which is what we call a dead log sticking up out the water. Later on that afternoon there were a pair of them. I couldn't get a picture of the pair because they dipped into the water as we approached them. This photo was taken during an overnight camping trip in the Cloud Lake Wilderness Area, shown below.

The picture above was taken from a small island in the stillwater where we set up camp. It overlooks a spot where a fair size brook flows into the stillwater and where the trout like to hang out to fill up their bellies. Our fishing trip was quite successful and very enjoyable. Good for the mind and soul. We caught 4 trout in this part of stillwater but only kept 2 to have for lunch since it was the first of the season. The biggest one we caught was 15 inches and was female, so we let her go. We are quite conservative with the trout. We usually let them go in hopes they will have young so there will always be trout to fish.

Trout fishing is tonnes of fun but finding good trout fishing nowadays takes a lot of work in order to get to isolated areas. Many fishing areas of the province have become accessible by OHVs, and runoff resulting from intensive harvesting and improper watercourse crossings has caused siltation of many brooks I see. It's also sad to see that not everyone is conservative with their catch, and there are folks out there that release small mouth bass and other fish that threaten the trout populations. (Bass eat trout eggs.)

There's my partner, Sandy Hyde, with one of the big trout we released.

This was our camp site. It was a nice little spot. Don't worry, we ensured that our camp fire was good and out. Sandy and I both have lots of experience with fire fighting and understanding fire behavior.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

All about management plans

The illustration above shows a woodlot stand map developed as part of a forest management plan by Picea Forestry Consulting. The woodlot stand map results from aerial photo interpretation and the forest inventory completed on the ground. The number of stand units reflects differences in species composition and age classes that have resulted from past disturbances (either harvesting or naturally caused disturbance). The number of stand units also reflects different site and soil conditions in terms of terrain characteristics (i.e., slope) and soil drainage. For instance, on this woodlot map stand, units 11 & 15 are classed as red maple swamps and these areas are wet for most of the year.

Besides outlining the number of stand units, the map also indicates available access to and within the woodlot and where watercourses are located. For this woodlot, a main public road serves as the north property boundary. This not only serves as a good property boundary but also provides ideal access to the woodlot. The woodlot trails, represented by red dotted lines, provide sufficient access within the woodlot in between the swamps, and a bridge was built to cross the brook in stand unit 20.

The woodlot stand map is an ideal reference point to what each stand contains, the priority level for attention (treatment), and recommended activities for the stands.

Questions & answers

A forest management plan can be fairly simple or quite detailed. Generally at a minimum the management plan provides documentation of your forest and tips on what you can do to improve it. If you do plan to do any work in the woods, the management plan will tell you what could be done to achieve your objectives and where to focus your efforts.

Recommendations are not etched in stone but do provide you with direction on where and how to proceed. In this post I'll answer some of the questions woodlot owners frequently ask about management plans.

Why have a management plan done?

Even if your plan is quite simple and you do not plan to do any harvesting in the near future, a management plan will tell you what you have and where it is—including whether you have any unique areas or special management zones (e.g., riparian areas, species at risk), where the best opportunities are for growing high-quality forest products over the long term, and whether you have potential for non-timber forest products, recreational activities, or other benefits of woodland ownership.

Having a management plan may be extremely helpful in coping with tax implications of woodlot ownership. A management plan may help you to qualify for the Intergenerational Land Transfer program, under which you may be able to pass your woodlot on to the next generation without burdening them with capital gains tax. It may also help to ensure that your property continues to be designated as forest resource, with lower property taxes than if it is designated residential. (Tax issues are complicated and depend on individual circumstances, so typically you would have to consult with a qualified professional in order to determine whether and/or how you can derive tax benefits from having a woodlot management plan.)

If you do plan to harvest, having an inventory that includes wood-product volumes allows you to place a current value on standing wood volume. A management plan also can determine an annual allowable cut or sustainable harvest level dependent on land capability and amount of mature (merchantable) trees present. This information will be extremely useful in planning harvesting and silviculture activities and in any negotiations with contractors.

In addition, a management plan may help you to identify stands/areas that are eligible for silviculture funding, which will help offset cost of improvement work. A management plan can also help you to obtain forest certification, which is increasingly important in making forest products attractive to consumers. A forest management plan is a first step towards achieving certification.

How is a management plan developed?

Six main steps are usually required to complete a management plan for a woodlot owner:
  1. Understand the woodlot owner's short- and long-term goals and objectives.·
  2. Obtain and interpret aerial photos to delineate stands and determine the number of stands to assess. Use contour maps and ecological classification maps to help determine forest stands.
  3. Conduct the forest inventory via a field cruise (assessment) of each stand. The forest inventory describes each stand in terms of species composition, age, number of age classes, height, density, vigor, growing conditions, wood product volumes, potential, and so on. The inventory also describes terrain and soil characteristics, soil drainage, number of watercourses and seepages, land capability, environmentally sensitive areas, windfall risk, access, and usually boundary line conditions.
  4. Develop the final woodlot map, calculating stand areas and wood product volumes for each stand and for the entire woodlot.
  5. Write the plan, including both descriptive and prescriptive information.
  6. Have the woodlot owner review the plan and then discuss it one on one.

What does a management plan contain?

Forest managers combine the information collected in a forest inventory with knowledge of your values, experience, and needs to complete the forest management plan. We:·
  • identify priority areas for treatment (where to focus efforts first);
  • recommend appropriate harvesting and silviculture activities, including techniques that aim to reach your objectives;
  • recommend methods of harvest and extraction; timing of activity, access, and operating considerations that aim to limit ground disturbance to ensure long-term productivity and ensure ecosystem health;
  • indicate stands/areas and treatments that are eligible for silviculture funding; and
  • identify areas suitable for recreation activities such as trails, camp sites, and rest stops.

How much does a management plan cost?

The cost of a management plan depends on amount of detail desired, management objectives, acreage and amount of productive land, the variability of stands, and the number of stands to assess. The cost of a management plan for a 100-acre woodlot that is mostly productive with a variety of stands might be in the range of $750 to $2,000. Although a management plan can be considered a significant investment, woodlot owners often find that the benefits are worthy more than the costs.

Note: This article previously appeared in an online newsletter published by the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A yummy NTF

One of the special treats Maritimers associate with early spring is the chance to eat fiddleheads, which are actually the fresh young shoots of Ostrich fern. These ferns are an indicator of a rich, moist site.

The photos shown here were taken on a level area of a slope in the Cape Breton Hills between Mabou and Inverness, but I have also found these in the Cobequid Hills on level ground and along streams. The photos were probably taken around the first of June.

Fiddleheads are just one example of the many nontimber forest products (NTFs) that our Acadian Forest can provide. And they are a tasty treat for the woodland owner!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Red baneberry, an indicator of rich soils

Red baneberry, which is shown above, and White baneberry, are indicators of very rich, fine-textured soil of imperfect drainage. For me, this indicates the site is capable of supporting shade-tolerant hardwoods such as White ash, Yellow birch, Sugar maple and even Black ash (which is rare).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Good growth on an old pasture

The photo above was taken on an FSC-certified 190 acre woodlot north of Mahone Bay, Lunenburg County, on a crest of a drumlin. This area was previously rough pasture that has reverted back to forest.

The photo shows a young Yellow birch sapling, about 4 meters tall and of good form, quality and vigor. It's growing underneath a canopy of White spruce and Tamarack larch that are approximately 45 years of age and 17 meters tall. Note that it's growing under a small gap in the upper canopy and is reaching for the light.

This site has good capability for growing high-value trees. The White spruce and particularly the larch could already be harvested for fair-to-high quality log products; but they are still young and can certainly grow longer. In addition, younger classes of both Yellow birch and some White ash that are scattered throughout the site. These are in varying stages, ranging from 3-8 meters tall.

Our recommendation for this area was to begin a light harvest of individual trees, choosing those of the poorest quality including branchy White spruce and some of the forked-topped larch. These trees will not increase in value, and gradually removing them will open gaps in the canopy. This in turn will increase growing space and provide light for the tolerant hardwoods emerging underneath, encouraging their growth.

It will be crucial to keep the harvest light, removing no more than 20-25% of the existing wood volume, because the younger trees need to remain sheltered in order to prevent damage that could be caused by heavy snow and ice. Presently the crowns of the White spruce and larch hold most of the snow and ice that falls on the site, protecting the saplings growing underneath. If too many of these older trees were removed, the young trees would have to take the full weight and would likely break or lean over. These younger trees will need to attain a diameter of at least 15 cm before they will be able to handle this weight.