You are invited to take a minute, close your eyes and recall your childhood experiences in the forests of New Brunswick.
My memory is of walking too far into a young stand of spruce that got so dense and crowded with sharp branches, that not even a young deer could move through. A person would almost have to crawl on their hands and knees to get through. This is what I thought a forest to be – because that is all that I knew. I had no idea how far the forest was from its natural state.
It was not until I was in my late 20s that I started to understand the importance and rarity of the Acadian/Wabanaki Forest. As Community Forests International said in a recent press release for their Forgotten Forests Campaign, it “is one of Canada’s most diverse and endangered temperate forest types, yet is largely unknown.”
How do we not understand the value of this ecosystem? Likely, that is due to there being less than one per cent of old growth forest left in New Brunswick. Old growth has many definitions, but for simplicity we can say: found in a state similar to pre-colonial era (although we are not yet in the post-colonial era in many ways, including how we manage natural resources).
The World Wildlife Fund classified the Wabanaki Forest among the most endangered forest types in Canada. Of the one per cent of remaining old growth, most of it is not contiguous, which means that it can be found only in small patches in various eco-regions of the province. Animals that need old growth habitat, like flying squirrels for instance, end up marooned in certain regions. There is too much monoculture-forest, and too many roadways and developed areas to allow them to move to new areas on their own.
The Sackville-based non-profit, Community Forests International, has recently launched a campaign to protect 2,500 acres of endangered forest. Community Forests International says that, “The small remnants of this forest that remain intact today are often on hilltops and in hard-to-access ravines, where forest clearing could not easily reach. Forest Program Manager, Craig Tupper and his colleagues have spent the last year searching for these remnants—which are usually found in corners of larger properties—and have lined up sales agreements with several private landowners.”
The initiative is called “The Forgotten Forest.” The organization has secured 80 per cent of the required funds to purchase these woodlands through private foundations and must raise the remaining $250,000 before the end of July. They are asking New Brunswickers for support.
Community Forests have done some admirable forest restoration projects over the years. To date, they have protected over 3,000 acres of ecologically valuable Acadian Forest. You can read about their nearly 700-acre Whaelghinbran Forest and Farm restoration project in another NB Media Co-op article. The key point here is that this work is not only about conservation, but about restoration. On May 13, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop hosted by Community Forests International and the Nashwaak Watershed Association on Climate Adaptive Silviculture.
The Wabanaki forest is a hemi-boreal forest, where northern species like spruce, poplar, tamarack and birch mix with species from areas in the southern reaches of the Maritimes and New England. These species would be trees like oak, pine, maple and hemlock. This forest type had been quite diverse before colonial interference. We had forest fires only every thousand years or so, so most of the changes in the forest came in smaller patches through wind or insect damage.
The workshop taught us how warmer overall conditions, followed by intense wet periods and drought cycles would damage or weaken the boreal species, but favour the most southerly hardwoods. Extreme coastal weather like hurricanes put softwood monoculture stands at a higher risk for large blowdown events as they are shallow rooted and tend to be even-aged stands.
Landowners can select for the most climate adaptive trees to lessen some of the damage of climate change. Forest Program Director Megan de Graaf explained to our group that, “Our forests are currently very vulnerable to the risks of climate change, due to the over-representation of boreal-affiliated softwoods on the landscape (a product of past human intervention). This represents a ‘ticking carbon time bomb’ for our forests, since the rate of climate change is four times faster than the natural rate of adaptation in forests.” Just as human intervention shaped the forest to be what it is today, we also need to take an active role in restoration.
Old forests are not the only interest for Community Forests International. They plan to
purchase and restore areas that have been harvested also, using a practice called
proforestation — actively managing younger forests back to their full ecological potential to augment their ability to sequester carbon and adapt to climate change. While scientists struggle to build expensive and massive carbon drawdown facilities, we have this free and proven resource in our own backyard.
While timber prices are dismal, we simply cannot put a price on the value of a climate stable forest that helps to clean our atmosphere. Why not invest in our own future by supporting our remarkable Wabanaki forest?
Amy Floyd and her partner Drew Gilbert have recently become stewards of a small woodlot and former soil mining site on the Nashwaak River and are actively working on restoration with the help of the Nashwaak Watershed Association through the Nashwaak Forest Stewardship Project.