Meeting our Mentors
After departing university and plunging into a career, I find there are only so many chances to meet with those you might consider experts or ‘gurus’ in your field. Often in the forestry world we are limited in our resources and only get the chance to attend a conference or two a year, and can’t always take advantage of learning opportunities in other regions.
While completing my Masters at the University of Toronto, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Sean Thomas, a Canada Research Chair in Forests and Environmental change. In one of my first classes with Sean, he introduced my classmates and I to Klaus Puettmann’s, A Critique of Silviculture: Managing for Complexity. This book has been the foundation of the forester who I have become today, and influenced many of the prescriptions we’ve developed within the MCFC. In the book, Puettmann et al. focus on the tendency for forests to be managed solely for the production of wood, rather than overall adaptability and resiliency. The authors emphasize that promoting the development of forests that are diverse in age, species and structure creates resiliency in mitigating various threats including climate change, disease and pests.
Following my migration to Nova Scotia, I was soon introduced to another professor that also critiqued this gap between silviculture and ecology, but specific to the Acadian Forest, Dr. Robert Seymour. Although Bob (now a professor emeritus at the University of Maine) has also developed a significant body of work surrounding increasing timber yields, he routinely references the need to emulate natural disturbances in silviculture, and perpetuate ecosystem function following harvests. We have been fortunate (in many ways) that the Nova Scotia Independent Forest Practices Review brought together leading academics in silviculture and forest policy to Nova Scotia, many of whom have signed on to continue to encourage our Province to implement forestry practices vested in the principles of ecological forestry. I consider Nova Scotia very lucky to have had Bob, among others, as members of Dr. William Lahey’s team. This year, Bob has been frequently back and forth from NS to Maine to help the Department of Lands and Forestry develop modifications for the Forest Management Guides, and I’ve been continually pestering him to come to visit us at the MCFC.
Last month, my wishes came true, as Bob indicated that he’d be willing to meet MCFC Board members and other like-minded foresters on the MCFC license area for what, unknown to him at the time, developed into a day of full on brain-picking. We ended up hosting a group of 9 ‘ecosystem-minded’ forest professionals for a day-long tour in the MCFC, looking at the past, present and future of silviculture in the license area.
Back in 2010, when the MCFC license area was still owned by Bowater Mersey Paper, Bob had advised the mill to test a partial harvest model known as Expanding Gap Group Selection (EGGS) in several high-production softwood stands. Therefore, I thought it was a priority to have Bob come back and visit one of these sites, and see what he might recommend for the future. The site we visited was a predominately red spruce/balsam fir/hemlock stand with the volume and density that would traditionally be treated by means of a commercial thinning, but was treated using the EGGS prescription in 2011. The original prescription from Bowater dictated harvest gaps at a rate of 1 gap (0.1 ha in size) cut every 1.3 ha, in a grid pattern. Through discussion, Bob stated that ideally the gaps would be marked and placed where there is pre-existing natural regeneration rather than in a geometric pattern.
Bob suggested that following the EGGS protocol, the next treatment would be to remove an additional 10m away from the edge of the gaps, but in a shape that is dictated by the presence of natural regeneration, rather than the creation of a uniform shape or size. Therefore, he emphasized that not all sides of the gap will necessarily be treated at the same time, and eventually, we’d start to loose the geometric ‘string of pearls’ that was originally implemented for ease of operations, rather than promotion of natural regeneration.
The next stop was our spruce/pine research trial which we completed in late 2017. The research trial was done in response to the alternative prescription developed by myself and the MCFC board, given that the block otherwise (through the Pre-Treatment Assessment process) would have been harvested as an overstory removal (clearcut). This stop generated significant discussion given there are three very different treatments adjacent to one another, a seed tree (clearcut), a strip shelterwood and our prescription, a non-uniform patch shelterwood. Much to my relief, Bob was pleased with our trial prescription, which we learned was most similar to what is known as a continuous cover irregular shelterwood harvest, where we cut gaps in locations with advanced regeneration and thinned in the surrounding forest matrix. Coming back through the seed tree portion of the research trial we passed a poorly drained area with extensive rutting. Although our tour was during a wet early summer, Bob, his wife Jessica Leahy (also a professor at U of M) and many other attendees emphasized the need for all wet areas, including machine free zones, to be distinguished clearly by flagging on all Crown land harvests.
The final stop of the day was to a block we have in planning stages, and is set to be harvested in late 2019. The stand is predominately white pine with a mix of red oak and declining balsam fir and hybrid (red and black, or as Bob says “dark red”) spruce. Since it was the end of the day, I found it difficult to really keep the conversation on track, so I could selfishly get Bob to tell me what the ‘right’ treatment might look like for this stand. But as the conversation continued to trail, we finally reached the conclusion that a treatment similar to what we saw at the research trial would be appropriate - utilizing a toolbox of techniques to promote growth of existing high quality trees, while releasing advanced regeneration. Tree marking was brought up as a key step to ensure that the right trees are removed and retained.
Overall, having Bob and Jessica join us on the MCFC license area was very educational and generated meaningful and beneficial discussion for our ongoing operations as well as the harvests that other attendees help develop and supervise. We look forward to hosting more leaders of our profession for many years to come.