With climate change weighing heavily on their minds, a couple in Nauwigewauk have launched the YouTube channel, “Mike and Debbie Hickey From the Woodlot,” to document their experiences restoring their family woodlot.
“We want to share these experiences with as many woodlot owners as possible, especially those who are relatively new to this activity,” says Mike Hickey.
From their woodlot in the rural community near Hampton, the couple have produced eleven videos to date and plan to release a new episode every Friday afternoon.
“We have made some mistakes along the way, and hopefully while sharing our ‘what not to do’ moments as well as some of the ‘wisdom’ we have acquired, you will have a few laughs and perhaps learn a little too as we pursue our passion to restore our woodlot in the Acadian forest,” say the couple.
Their woodlot restoration journey began when the couple moved to Debbie’s family woodlot in 2009. After a year of cutting firewood, Mike discovered Jamie Simpson’s book, Restoring The Acadian Forest.
“I read the book and I was hooked. By 2012, we had a formal management plan and fully understood that climate change was a serious challenge for our borealized Acadian forest,” says Mike.
The Acadian forest is a name used to describe the mixed wood forest type found in the Maritimes and parts of the northeastern U.S.
A blend of leafy hardwood trees and evergreens, the Acadian forest is home to 32 native tree species. However, large tracts of this forest have been clearcut, sprayed with glyphosate and converted into plantations of spruce and fir, tree species characteristic of the boreal forest.
Spraying the forest has been particularly controversial in New Brunswick. More than 34,000 people have signed a petition against aerial glyphosate spraying of the forest, making it the largest petition ever submitted to the New Brunswick Legislature. A bill tabled by Green Party Leader David Coon last November in the Legislature aims to ban the practice on Crown lands, land that has never been surrendered by the Indigenous Wolastoqey, Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy peoples of the region.
The future of spruce and fir trees in New Brunswick is the subject of recent research published by Natural Resources Canada’s forest ecologist Anthony Taylor.
Modelling done by Taylor shows that in a worst case scenario, with no action being taken to reduce greenhouse emissions to safe levels, the number of fir and spruce trees in the Acadian forest could be reduced by 10 to 20 per cent. Such a loss would have devastating consequences for the forestry industry that heavily relies on these species.
Besides scientists and conservation groups, woodlot owners in New Brunswick are working on climate change.
The New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners is working with Community Forests International, the University of New Brunswick and the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development to support woodlot owners wanting to manage for more climate resilient forests on their land.
The Hickeys hope that their videos complement such efforts by woodlot owners. They want woodlot owners who may have been separated from their family woodlots to get reacquainted with their woods and do their part in the fight against climate change.
The episodes vary in topic and include guidance on restoring woodlots for hardwoods, such as red oak, and the couple’s experiences with tree felling, gathering firewood and cleaning out their wood furnace flu pipe.
Episode 6 discusses notable trees found on their woodlot, including a yellow birch decked with chaga, a popular fungus known for its healing properties that can be drank as a tea.
The self-described young at heart retirees started their work lives as federal government employees. Mike left his job in 1995 to start a furniture restoration business from home. He completed a Masters in Business Administration in 1997 and taught courses at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.
In 2000, Debbie was saddened to learn of the closure of a local media outlet that produced community news. The couple decided to take over the business and transform it into Ossekeag Publishing. The publishing company produced The Valley Viewer, Hampton Herald, Sussex Herald and WesTides. From a staff of four, the business had by 2010 grown to a staff of 16.
Ossekeag Publishing reached thousands of homes in rural Kings County and West Saint John with their community news. Following a steady loss of business to Kijiji and other online formats, the couple decided to sell the business in 2017. In 2018, the new owners of Ossekeag Publishing announced it was closing.
Debbie now works part time as manager of the King’s County Museum. Mike sold his furniture restoration business and retired. The couple are now devoting a lot of their time to producing videos for woodlot owners like themselves.
“Having watched many Youtube channels about woodlots and off-grid homesteaders, they often referenced how unusual the weather was but not once did I hear any of them say climate change. Being mostly retired, the channel just seemed to be a bit of a challenging and interesting project,” says Mike.
Tracy Glynn is a doctoral researcher with RAVEN, an activist media-research project based at the University of New Brunswick on unceded Wolastoqiyik territory, and co-author of The Great Trees of New Brunswick, 2nd Edition.