| Jun 02, 2005


Feature article, May 26, 2005

Feature article May 26, 2005

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Who tracks the forest?

by Gray Merriam

Who can tell us whether the forests of Central Frontenac, or North Frontenac, are growing or shrinking? The question is simple enough. Is the total amount of wood in all the logs cut each year being replaced by the incremental growth of the trees still standing? For Crown Lands, MNR forestry folks are supposed to be thinking about the question. But for privately owned forests, who is thinking about the question. Does regrowth balance harvested trees?

Harvesting changes more than just the amount of wood in the forest. Is our harvesting changing the species that we will have in our forests in future? It certainly has in the past. Will the forest that results from our harvesting be as economically valuable as the forest that we are cutting? Will those future forests be able to support forest animals and plants other than trees that we have come to expect as part of our environment?

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Near Ompah, a forest co-operative, related to the Eastern Ontario Model Forest, does try to achieve sustainable forests. In southern Lennox and Addington, The Upper Canada Wood Cooperative does the same.

Wood cooperatives do more than just keep track of growth rates and harvest rates. They manage forests into the future -- for wood and for all the other parts of a complete forest. They also help people harvesting trees to find good markets for their wood. By banding together, forest owners can access markets not open to small operators. Co-ops also can get the help they need to find buyers who will pay the real market value for each individual log rather than just getting a minimum price for a bunch of logs. Where this sort of marketing has been perfected, individual owners hire forest managers who help to manage individual trees starting early in their growth to groom them for particular markets when they become harvestable. In that way, owners maximize the dollar value from each individual tree. It can get to a few thousand dollars for a good log.

To get that maximum value, the forest manager has to locate industrial wood users that will add maximum economic value to each species and each log type. Selling standing logs or truckloads of raw logs will not gain the real value of the harvested wood; nor will simply sawing the logs into rough lumber and exporting it from our area with no further processing. The forest owners lose, the mill operators lose and the entire region loses.

If we lose forest area or forest growth rate, it also affects things like regional climate. And globally, forest growth is one of the most effective ways to store carbon for long periods and avoid adding to the carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. In some regions, Ontario Power Generation has bought land and planted it with trees that will absorb and store Carbon Dioxide in order to offset their production of Carbon Dioxide at some of their generating plants. Well-managed forests have many values.

Trying to get past the too-low prices for unprocessed logs usually results in everybody trying to cut more as the only means of increasing their income. Unless forest owners receive the help they need to get better marketing of their harvest and increase its economic value, they will lose their forests. The forests will not be able to sustain their production. Some harvesters and some owners may adopt the view that it does not matter. Trees grow too slowly to give living owners a second cash crop, so the easy way is just sell it as standing timber and get some cash.

Forests and forest management cant be viewed in a short term. Forestry is a mid-term business. But if well managed, a forest can produce a continuous harvest forever. Our kids and grandkids can continue to have a harvest. And forest is the optimum land use for this landscape that we are part of. Sustaining our forests is the sensible way to go, both economically and environmentally. Adding value to our forest harvest is the key.

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