Managing woodlots at the landscape scale
Pollett River Private Woodlot-Watershed
One objective of the UNB Faculty of Forestry and Environmental Management is to develop management options that maintain biodiversity. A common perceived barrier to the achievement of biodiversity conservation on small private woodlots is the fragmented nature of land ownership. It is often suggested that multiple land ownership prevents planning for the large-scale landscape-level spatial objectives that are an important part of sound forest management. Through this project, we hope to encourage woodlot owners to consider landscape-level biodiversity in their management plans.
The Pollett River Watershed incorporates all the land surrounding the Pollett River and is enclosed by the hills on either side of the valley (map 1). The town of Petitcodiac and community of Elgin are both included in this watershed.
Map 1. Location of the Pollett River Watershed. Private woodlots are in green.
The PRWP is a initiative to plan for landscape ecology in the watershed involving private woodlot owners. The objectives of this project include:
This has been done by establishing a landscape-level forest management plan encompassing the Pollett River Watershed. We are currently providing management plans to woodlot owners that incorporate the landscape-level wildlife goals, water conservation and recreation. Financial assistance is provided to woodlot owners who agree to follow these plans. All participation is voluntary. If you are interested in a free management plan contact us at SNB or the GFE.
What is Forest Fragmentation?
Fragmentation literally means, “breaking apart”. Landscape fragmentation is the breaking apart of habitat. Some forest fragmentation is quite natural; for example, cedar wetlands are often surrounded by patches of upland hardwood forest. Wildlife (plants and animals) are adapted to this landscape. However, forestry, farming, and urban development have the potential to create openings that are too wide for some forest plants and animals to cross. Larger patches of cutover or agricultural fields often separate patches of older forest.
Some species are not able to cross large openings and their movements will be limited if old forest habitat is surrounded by young forest or farm fields (Red Spotted Newt and Northern Flying Squirrel). Due to a long history of human settlement and forest harvesting in the Maritimes, fragmentation is a concern across much of the Acadian Forest Region.
Red spotted newt adult
In the Pollett River Watershed, forest fragmentation is not as advanced as in other areas (Map 2). However, careful planning of forest harvesting can help ensure certain plant and animal populations do not become isolated in the future.
Map 2. Recent forest harvest (1993-1999) in the Pollett River Watershed as determined by satellite imagery
Why Plan for the Big Picture? The Importance of Landscape Planning
Landscape-level features include all the aspects of forests that do not stop and start at the boundaries of a woodlot. Such features include wildlife habitat, water quality and even recreation.
Wildlife: Many wildlife species travel beyond the boundaries of a given woodlot, and rely on a large area of forest to meet all their life requirements. Examples include deer, American marten, and many bird species, such as the scarlet tanager. Often forest types that animals use for habitat extend beyond the boundaries of a woodlot. This can often lead to two or more woodlot owners having control over a particular animals’ habitat.
Water quality: The quality of water downstream is always effected by what goes on upstream. Clearcutting on a small tributary stream can lead to flooding, siltation and other detrimental effects, when that stream meets a larger stream. Only by protecting all the water ways in each woodlot, is it possible to ensure water quality protection in the watershed.
Recreation: Landscape planning of woodlots could also include recreation planning. Through landowner contact, snowmobile clubs have constructed an extensive trail network throughout the Pollett River Area. These ideas could be extended to other activities if community members were interested.
As mentioned above, habitat boundaries rarely start and stop according to land ownership boundaries. With this project, one of our objectives is to help make woodlot owners aware of how their land matches habitat boundaries to develop a plan for maintaining these habitat types across property lines.
Areas with high percent of mature softwood cover. Deer have relatively short legs (compared to moose) that are not well adapted to harsh winter conditions. Conifer trees catch large amounts of falling snow in their branches, reducing the amount of snow on the forest floor. The deer need these conifer stands when snow gets deep so that they can move around easily to get food and escape predators. Softwood stands also stay warmer and act as insulation for deer during the winter.
Mature hemlock stand in the Pollett River that functions as a deer wintering area
(Shade) tolerant hardwood trees are often an indication of an older forest stand. Sugar maple, yellow birch, and American beech are the main components of tolerant hardwood stands and develop under the shade of the forest canopy. A number of different plant species are associated with these older stands, which can take over a hundred years to develop. After clear cutting, tolerant hardwood species are not able to regenerate very easily in open sunlight conditions. Because clearcutting is now a popular form of management, tolerant hardwood stands are less common than they were historically.
Mature tolerant hardwood stand in the Pollett River
Acadian Mixedwood Forest
A mixture of hardwood and softwood, these habitats are now thought to be important for a number of species. The blackburnian warbler is a migrant bird species that nests in spruce trees, but carries out much of its feeding in hardwood trees. This is one example of an animal that may require both hardwood and softwood to meet its life requirements.
Adult male Blackburnian Warbler
Mixed red spruce, pine, sugar maple beech forest near Gibson Brook in the Pollett River Watershed
Older forests have many features that are important to plants and animals. For many forest managers dead wood was considered “lost revenue” as it meant managers missed the opportunity to harvest what may have been a perfectly good tree. Now scientists and managers are starting to understand that dead wood plays an important role in the forest ecosystem. The nutrients from dead wood (coarse woody debris) are recycled by fungus, plants and animals and are returned to the soil to provide nutrients for the living trees in a stand. Snags – standing dead trees - provide nesting sites for woodpeckers and later, are home to animals such as Barred Owls, Wood Ducks.
Coarse woody debris
All of the above landscape features have been mapped using a Geographic Information System (GIS) – a computer-mapping tool (Map 3). We are encouraging woodlot owners to manage in a way that fits with this landscape plan.
Map 3. The Pollett River landscape plan
Map 4. Woodlot and surrounding habitat in the Pollett River Watershed
Almost 50% of the area in this watershed is made up of woodlots. A large percentage of forest is still intact, and has a number of unique features. 22% of the Pollett River watershed consists of mature forest. Pine makes up another 17% of the area. Mixedwood and tolerant hardwood make up another 7%
This may not seem like a big deal, as these types of forest are quite common. But with today’s intensive forest practices and increasing land development for housing and even agriculture, these forest types are not as common as they were just 30 years ago!
One of the goals of this project is to help woodlot owners identify these important and increasingly rare habitat types and ensure that they are maintained for years to come. This does not mean that harvesting has to stop in these habitat types, as careful harvesting can help maintain many of the important habitat characteristics of the forest.
Watershed planning cannot be done alone - it will take the coordination of many woodlot owners in the Elgin and Petitcodiac area. Today it is important to be aware of what is going on in your watershed, not just on your land. Forestry has changed scales on Crown, large private land and on woodlots. With technology in the forest industry that makes it possible to clear an entire woodlot in less than a week, it is now important to plan for forest harvesting over a large area, and for the long term.
Because forestry companies and the province own large areas of land that cover many watersheds and habitat boundaries, it is easier for them to do this type of planning. Woodlot owners or contractors may use the same tools for harvesting, but cannot plan how this will affect the watershed as a whole because they only own small areas. Even more importantly, woodlot owners can be faced with forestry companies and contractors that do harvesting for them without much thought about how woodlots fit into the watershed.
In order to make harvesting sustainable at such a large scale, it is going to be important for woodlot owners to communicate and plan together. A watershed committee is the ideal way to encourage this sort of communication and planning. A watershed committee could also find new markets for wood, keep woodlot owners updated on new government initiatives (like the intergenerational tax rollovers, and conservation easements), and get involved in water quality planning. A watershed committee would be directed by local people with all of decision-making power with you, the woodlot owner. The SNB Wood Co-op, GFERG and FMF would also work to provide assistance upon request (GIS, research results, funding).
Without this type of planning you leave the future of your watershed to chance, and it is easy to see where chance has lead many other watersheds.
The partners involved in the Pollett River Watershed Project include the Greater Fundy Ecosystem Research Group (GFERG), the Southern New Brunswick Wood Coop (SNB), the Fundy Model Forest (FMF), the Kendall Foundation, and private woodlot owners.
GFERG – This organization is responsible for coordinating the research occurring in the ecosystem surrounding Fundy National Park. Much of the research focuses on the effects of forest management on wildlife and the forest ecosystems. This project is one of the first initiatives to share what is being learned by researchers with woodlot owners and communities living in the Greater Fundy Ecosystem.
SNB – The wood marketing board has been working with woodlot owners for many years in Southern New Brunswick, supplying management plans, silviculture assistance, marketing advise, etc. The SNB is presently helping the GFE contact woodlot owners and supply forest management plans that incorporate important landscape features identified by forest researchers.
Fundy Model Forest – Is a locally-based group that encompasses a large area surrounding the park. This organization brings together government, large private land owners, small private land owners and environmental organizations. The FMF is involved in management, research and education on a wide range of forestry topics. They are presently supplying funding for the Pollett River Watershed management plans. The Fundy Model Forest is a great resource for anyone living in Southern New Brunswick involved in the forest industry.
Kendall Foundation – This group provides funding to large scale conservation projects. They are presently supplying funding for management plans and the coordinator position.
Private Woodlot Owners – Of course the woodlot owners are our most important partner. Various landowners in the watershed are presently working with SNB and the GFE to update and in some cases provide an initial management plan. These management plans are based on the woodlot owners objectives, and the landscape level objectives.
The Pollett River Watershed is presently in good condition. Many of these important habitat types are still intact. So why worry about landscape planning? It is true that the Pollett River is one of the best examples of a forested watershed in the Fundy Model Forest. However in the past 5 years there has been a considerable amount of harvesting going on in the area (Map 2). It is possible that it is just a matter of time before harvesting becomes more apparent.
Without some kind of planning both on individual woodlots and at the greater landscape scale, it is very possible that environmental quality of this area will start to decline as pressures from an increasing population begin to affect the Petitcodiac and Elgin area.
Jean-Guy Comeau using portable saw-mill
**Shelterwood Systems are a good method for harvesting pine stands.
So you don’t even want to manage your woodlot? You just want to cut a bit of firewood every year and the rest of the time it is where you do your walking. The Nature Conservancy has a conservation easement program that might be worth looking into. A conservation easement is a legal agreement that goes with the deed of the woodlot and restricts certain types of development. If you agree not to cut the timber on your land, you can use the value of the uncut wood as an income tax break, the sum of which can be spread out over many years. Presently the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Nature Trust of New Brunswick are available to provide easements. Things to consider:
conservation Easements are only available for sites that are considered by the Nature Conservancy to be “environmentally sensitive”
you have to agree to limit the development of your woodlot
the cost of having your land assessed can be expensive
the Nature Conservancy recommends consulting a financial advisor to decide whether this agreement is right for you.
For more information on conservation easements, call the Nature Conservancy at (506) 450-6013
Sensitive Ecological Areas
Gibson Brook – This area is located very close to Elgin. Gibson Brook has steep slopes, and has one of the largest hemlock stands in southeastern New Brunswick. These stands are increasingly rare. There is also a tolerant hardwood on this site. Rare plants in Gibson Brook include the frog orchis and lesser wintergreen.
So far two of the eight ecologically sensitive forested sites identified in Singleton’s report have been found on woodlots in the Pollett River. These community types are desrcibed below. Have you seen any of these other forest communities in the Pollett River Watershed?
1. Pine-Oak Forest Community Type2. Wet Cedar Forest Community Type3. Talus Slope Hardwood Forest Community Type
- Sugar Maple/White Ash/ Ironwood/Beech
This ecologically sensitive forest site occurs on mid-slope and rich upland forest sites. This community types is generally found on richer soils that the more common sugar maple-yellow birch-beech community type. White ash and ironwood were historically more common according to historical records.