Posted on March 27, 2009 @ 09:27:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Planting trees is one of the few things we can do that will have an effect far into the future. The act of planting a tree gives us the opportunity to reflect on what the spot we want to plant it in will be like in 50 to 400 years from now. One thing we can be sure of is that the trees we plant today will be existing in a climate warmer than the present one. Some local species of tree that currently thrive will not in our future climate. According to Girvan Harrison in Roddie's New Woodlot (2007), common local species of trees like Jack Pine, Black Spruce and Balsum Fir are not good bets in the future because they are likely to be stressed and won't do so well.
On the topic of the book "Roddie's New Woodlot", which I just finished, I would recommend it to anyone who wanted a light and amusing approach to learning about forestry. There is plenty of ribald humor in this book mixed with lessons about forest ecology and forest management.
I found two chapters in this book particularly useful: The Past, Present, & Future (pp. 101-116) and The Water, Wildlife, & Wood Walkabout (pp. 149-169). While embedding forestry lessons in the context of narrative fiction is arguably not the best way to learn many aspects of forest ecology and management (i.e., low signal-to-noise ratio), it does have it's particular strenghts in these chapters where Girvan Harrison dawns his professional forester hat and gives you some insight into how they analyze a forest both as an ecosystem and as an economic resource. In these chapters, Harrison is charged with coming up with a management plan to help Roddie figure out what to do with his various forest land plots.
In one of these plots, Roddie would like to encourage wildlife to flourish, in particular, partridge (he hates it when they are referred to as "Ruffed Grouse"). From the chapter on "Water, Wildlife, & Wood" we learn how to encourage partridge to flourish. Girvan recommends he use one of this plots, a 7 acre old burn, for this purpose. He suggest that he manage the stand by:
... gradually dividing it into three growth stages of about two and a quarter acres each. Your objective will be to develop a two and a quarter acre area aged 2 to 9 years to act as brood cover; another area aged 10 to 24 years old to be an overwintering and breeding place; and the last area being over 25 years old and to be used as nesting and feeding habitat".(p.163).
The recommended technique for achiving this age-class distribution of growth is clever:
The stand is now 10 years old, so after the leaves are off this fall you could begin to establish your next age class by clearcutting two and a quarter acres. Being cut in the autumn will ensure that there will be an abundant number of aspen suckers next year.
This leaves you wilth an uncut area of about four and three quarters acres. In 15-years time you'll clearcut half this area. This means you'll have one area in the 25-year age class, one in the 15-year age class and the regenerating area that you cut that year.
So while I often prefer to get my forest ecology from textbook-like presentations, there is something to be said for a narrative-fiction approach especially when it gives you some insights into how a professional forester applies informed judgement to managing different types of forest environments for different uses.
Posted on March 23, 2009 @ 10:15:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Over the march break holiday I had the opportunity to spend some time in a remote forested area where my family has a small cabin. Because of the spring thaw, getting to the cabin involved frequently falling up to your knees in snow and less frequently falling up to your waist in snow. The trek out of the forest was a more enjoyable as we had our incoming tracks to follow. On the way out, me, my brother and my sister started trying to identify some trees. My brother is knowledgeable about the trees through his log-cutting work as well as facts and knowledge he has accumulated through his long acquaintance with forests. My sister also has considerable experience with the forest as a result of growing up and living in a forested area.
I was able to differentiate some tree species based on visual keys in a tree identification book I had. Even with such a book it is difficult to distinguish between the different tree species that might be found in an Acadian forest. My bother told me to feel the needles of a spruce tree in the palm of my hand to feel the differences between the different types of conifers. Also, he pointed out the "gum bubbles" on the bark of a spruce tree as a clear distinguishing mark. You can taste and feel the difference between trees.
Trees also have many alternative names. The names used can depend upon the sense most affected. A "skunk spruce" is so named because of its smell which my sister likens to cat urine. The term "cat spruce" is sometimes used to name a species of spruce because, when limbing the tree, you need to be careful because the limbs from it can fly at you like a cat.
So the next time you are in a forest with your visually-oriented tree identification book, you might want to put it down and see if you can get to know trees using more than just your sense of vision.
Posted on March 20, 2009 @ 07:05:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Recently I've become more interested in the idea of planting "Tree Crops" in addition to a vegetable garden. Bill Mollison, founder of Permaculture, advocates planting about 10 trees for the food they produce in addition to a 4 square meter garden. He calls this the nucleus of a garden and advocates that beginners only plant more plants after establishing this nucleus.
On the issue of crop trees, however, I am finding it difficult to come up with 10 potentially different types of crop trees that might grow in my zone (5a). Apple, cherry, and plum trees do well around here; beyond that people don't appear to experiment too much. Walnut trees also appear to do ok, but they would be too massive for our suburban lawn.
Like everything else about gardening this is a learning curve for me. One type of crop tree that I though might be useful and interesting to grow is a pomegranate tree. There is alot of good press out about this tree; however, it appears that my climate is way to wet and cold for it to do well here.
Rather than find this process of finding crop trees frustrating, I'm realizing yet another hole in my ecological knowledge that needs to be rectified. Personally, I enjoy the challenge and know of a couple of books I can use to help educate myself. One book is the classic Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith. Another book by a pioneer in the field is Forest Gardening: Cultivating an Edible Landscape by Robert Hart.
Posted on January 23, 2009 @ 12:56:00 PM by Paul Meagher
I went to see the band Matt Mays & El Torpedo last night. One of his songs that is getting quite a bit of local airplay is "Tall Trees". Matt Mays plays a stripped down acoustic version of the song in this interview with Jian Ghomeshi on the CBC radio show Q. This song resonates with me given my recent fixation with forest ecology. Enjoy.
Posted on January 7, 2009 @ 08:00:00 AM by Paul Meagher
In yesterday's blog on Tree Identification, I presented a photo of a healthy Acadian Forest vista. From an ecological perspective, the ideal Acadian Forest structure is an multi-aged mix of hardwoods and softwoods. The vertical structure of an ideal Acadian Forest consists of a top, middle, and bottom layer of growing tree, shrub, and fern biomass. There would also be dead standing trees and windfall to provide habitat for insects, wood peckers, fungi, trout, and many other species.
What is ideal from an ecological perspective is far from ideal from a current economic perspective. On that perspective, the only value the forest has is in terms of the timber products that can be made from it. The most profitable way to get at that product is often by clearcutting the forest to extract all the hardwood and softwood product on it. After a forest is clearcut the forest will likely eventually recover again if it has not been clearcut too many times before and is given enough time for forest succession processes to occur. In the long run, however, the biomass that could have been grown on that area, the quality of the soil on that area, and the biodiversity would have all been much better had trees been selectively harvested according to a regime where trees are selectively culled to optimize growth in the understories and canopy.
How can we protect the Acadian Forest, and by extension, all forests of the world, from the current short-sighted economic perspective?
An important first step, in my opinion, is to be able to formulate an ecological account of what an ideal forest ecosystem in your area should consist off. For me, the phrases "mixed hardwoods and softwoods", "multi-aged", and "multi-storied" have helped me to begin to clarify what might be the ideal ecological structure for an Acadian Forest. I might be willing to add to that account the idea of culling trees for the purpose of optimizing growth in the understories and canopy.
After we formulate a concept of what our ecologically ideal forest consists of, the next step is to show how forestry practices aimed a achieving that ecological ideal are simultaneously more economically attractive than practices that would do significant harm to the ideal.
I believe we are now reaching a point in history where we can better appreciate that a forest has more primary uses than supplying us with raw timber product. There are a broad range of eco-system services that an ecologically ideal forest supplies better than a non-ideal forest. It fosters more biodiversity in an age of rapidly diminishing biodiversity. It can also supplies a variety of other "products" like Maple Syrup, medicines, foods, recreation, renewable power, and eco-tourism. The ideal forest eco-system still allows tree-harvesting but done in a much more intelligent manner than clear cutting, high grading, or other similarly damaging forestry practices.
Preservation and restroration of an Acadian Forest can be financed by selective harvesting and selling non-timber products that a forest offers. If you are obtaining renewable power from the forest than this can also lower your operating costs considerably and relieve you of the need to make as much money to get by.
There is also the possibility of financing ideal Acadian Forests through the development of new financial instruments that assign a price value to the ecosystem services that a forest provides. In this vein, the Canadian Model Forest Network has recently released an interesting document:
This report provides a clear and concise synopsis of what is being done regarding provision of ecological goods and services on private lands in Canada. It summarizes the proceedings of a series of regional workshops held in 2007 to address this emerging social policy issue. Valuation of Ecological Goods and Services is one of the CMFN’s national initiatives.
I'm not done reading this report or mulling it over, however, I'm starting to form the opinion that financing for global warming mitigation should be done in terms of "ecosystem credits" instead of "carbon credits". When you buy a "forestry ecosystem credit" you would be buying into more than just offsetting your carbon emissions, you would also be buying into the preservation or restroration of an ideal forest ecosystem.
The forest ecosystem in this part of the world is often referred to as "The Acadian Forest". There are 32 species of softwood and hardwood tree that are believed to native to the Acadian Forest. Below is a picture of an Acadian Forest vista that is in particularly pristine health (no evidence of clear cutting or beetle infestation in the picture).
I read about an impressive grade 7 school project where the kids had to identify something like 20 species of tree. If kids can do it why can't we all?
If you go to forestry school, you would be required to do a tree identification project like the grade 7 kids (probably more advanced). Getting kids to do a tree identification project would mean their parents would have to become more knowledgeable about their forest environment.
In 2009 I hope to improve my skills in tree identification by learning more about the identifying features of the various trees that are common or native to Nova Scotia. Be it resolved that I will learn to identify all the tree species that are common or native to my local Colchester Country environment. That number is probably less than the 32 common and navitve species that inhabit an Acadian Forest, however, it would be nice to actually inspect all 32 species in 2009.
Posted on January 5, 2009 @ 09:00:00 AM by Paul Meagher
As you may have gathered from my recent blogs, I have become more interested in forest ecology. Girvan Harrison, in Nature's Way, recommended the exercise of (regularly) spending 15 minutes in a forest environment to see what you might end up reflecting upon. I've done this before, and over the holidays I had a chance to formally do it again. This time, my reflections were quite different.
I went about 100 feet away from my in-law's house where a stip of forested land separates my in-law's property from their neighbor's property. This strip of land is about 2 acres wide and contains a ravine (about 30 feet deep) where a centrally running stream drains the highland areas above into an ocean harbour below. On this particular day their were extremely high winds (a fairly regular occurance in this ocean-exposed area) and lots of snow around so that visibility was low. It was not pleasant to look in the direction of the blowing snow because it pinged the exposed part of your eye. It was under these conditions that I ventured into a more sheltered forested ravine environment to commune with nature for 15 minutes.
I wasn't planning on formally communing with nature until I found a "meadow spruce" tree (a larger spruce tree with lots of large branches running up its body) with branches weighted down to the ground by a large volume of accumulated snow. In the ravine, underneath these boughs, constituted about as sheltered an area as I could find to spend my 15 minutes in the forest. My main revelation while spending time in my "found" shelter was the idea that a good reason to spend time in nature was to play and that camping down in this shelter was something I had often done to entertain myself as a youngster. For some reason we lose this sense of play and don't use this as a rationale for going out into a forested environment.
While there was an element of play in what I was doing, there was also the reality that blizzard-like conditions were going on around me with trees creaking and cracking all around. It was difficult to get into a meditative/relaxed state under these conditions so time did not pass as quickly as I thought it would. I spent about 10 minutes in the shelter and then headed back. I stopped to spend some time observing the tree's swaying in the extreme force of the wind and this is when I began to "get into" my nature experience. I became more receptive to the "way of the forest" and what it might teach me.
To set the scene, my father-in-law is into horse racing and has 5 horses. He has two main fields that he grows hay on which run down both sides of a long lane leading to his house. The forested ravine that I was in started on the edge of the right field. The wind was blowing accross the right field into the trees. I spent about 15 minutes observing wildly swaying trees just in from the treeline sheltered by a Large-Tooth Aspen tree (whose name refers to the deep furrowed bark on the tree). The swaying trees I was looking at were being directly exposed to the extreme fury of the wind.
It was from this vantage point that I began my reflections on how the economy might be like a forest. Like any business, a tree in the forest experiences regular cycles of good times (spring/summer) and bad times (fall/winter). During good times it grows and competes with other trees for sunlight. During bad times, it sheds its leaves and slows down metabolically. A tree can withstand normal cycles, however, extreme wind events are a mortal foe of trees (attested to by the creaking and cracking around me) and many of their adaptations can be seen as adaptations to the Wind Reaper. The manner in which a tree adapts to occassional extreme wind events might teach us something about how businesses might adapt to the extreme economic events now occuring.
Here are some of the adaptations I noticed. One adaptation is at the level of the forest structure where trees adjacent to the treeline appeared to be larger than trees located farther from the treeline. These larger maple trees formed a vanguard that diminished the strength of the wind that smaller maple trees absorbed. Perhaps emerging from this recession will require similiar vanguard industries that make it easier for smaller businesses to survive in their wake. Among the vanguard trees there was a further interesting adaptation which involved trees clustering together to fight as a unit rather than separately. By clustering I mean sharing the same root system and tree base but forming separate main trunks going up the tree. While one large vanguard tree can survive alone, there appeared to be more clustering at the treeline than farther in from the treeline. There seems to be more of an imperative to coorperate among those trees forming the vanguard.
At the level of the tree, they shed their load (dead leaves) during times when winds and weather becomes more extreme (fall/winter). They also have evolved to become very pliant - able to bend and move in all directions that the wind forces them to move in.
More analogies between a forest and an economy can be found, but the most striking observations that occurred to me during my commune with the forest were the wind adaptations related to the global structure of the forest (i.e., vanguard structure, more cooperation at the vanguard) and at the individual level (i.e., load reduction, pliancy). The economy is going through turbulent times and similiar adaptations might be required at the industry and business-level to withstand the onslaught. Of course, not all trees in the forest survive high wind events and weaker vanguard industries often perish first with downstream trees stepping in to take over the sunlight and nutrients left behind by the fallen vanguard.
Posted on December 30, 2008 @ 11:09:00 AM by Paul Meagher
Over the holidays, I finished reading a book by Girvan Harrison called Nature's Way: An Introduction to Forest Ecology, 2006, Earthwood Editions: Gagetown, New Brunswick.
After reading this 189 page book my appreciation for, and knowledge of, forests has increased. While the book could be considered a general introduction to Forest Ecology, the book is particularly relevant to those living in the Maritime provinces of Canada and the North Eastern region of the U.S. (simply because the author is based in this region and the tree species mentioned are prevalent in these regions). The book does a good job of discussing many of the concepts and terms that are useful in understanding Forest Ecology. It it probably unique in the amount of time it spends trying to foster wonder about the workings of nature by asking the reader to reflect upon various interesting facts and ideas about forest flora and fauna. As an introduction to Forest Ecology I think it does the job. It covers the fundamentals and leaves you wanting to learn more about many of the topics discussed.
I would recommend "Nature's Way" as a primer for those wanting to know more about forest ecology. It is easy to read and does a good job of motivating readers to want to explore forest ecology in more detail. When I return from vacation at my in-laws, I will have a leading textbook on ecology to tackle:
Krebs, C.J. 2009. Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance. 6th ed. Benjamin Cummings, San Francisco. 655 pp.
As a self-learner on vacation, I think it was a better choice to start my exploration of ecology in the context of "Nature's Way" because it offers some additional motivation for wanting to read Kreb's more advanced text: to better understand some of the concepts discussed and to extend my general ecological knowledge.
I am in the process now of re-reading pages and sections of the "Nature's Way" book so that on my daily nature walks (while on vacation) I can better appreciate what is going on around me. I would similarly recommend the book to those looking to enhance their experiences in forested environments.