Remembering Last Fall's Field Day

Above, NSWOOA members Paul Brison (center) and Florence Antle-Brison (standing next to Paul) welcome guests to the 2007 Fall Field Day, held at their woodlot in West Hants. All photos courtesy Pam Langille.

Each year, the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association hosts two much-anticipated events: in spring, our annual general meeting and, each fall, a field day in which NSWOOA members and guests visit a Nova Scotia woodlot. The following article, reprinted here by permission of the author, captures why we all cherish such fond memories of these events.

Forest Time

By Donna Smyth

“IN FOREST TIME” was the theme of this year’s woodlot tour sponsored by the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association (NSWOOA). Over 50 people gathered at Paul and Florence Brison’s woodlot (mostly hardwood), just off the New Cheverie Road in West Hants, for a guided walk with talks by experts at various stations in the woods.

Forest Time is the natural growing time of different trees within the forest. Depending on the species, it can range from 40 years to 200-400 years. White pine, red spruce, yellow birch are among the long-lived species typical of the original Acadian Forests of Nova Scotia. The grandmother of them all is the hemlock, which can live to be 800 years old.

Right: A map shows visitors how to find several well-marked trails through the Brison woodlot. On each trail there are stations where speakers make presentations on woodlot management, using the Brison woodlot as an example.

To compare this to our sense of human time is to understand that thinking in Forest Time requires both imagination and knowledge. We have to be able to imagine a future forest not only beyond ourselves but also beyond the next several generations. Paul Brison, for instance, says he’s growing red oak trees for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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WE ALSO NEED a deep knowledge of how Forest Time unfolds so we can work with the forest rather than against its natural rhythms of decay and regeneration. Bill McKay, from Dieppe, NB, took us into the small valley created by an old shale pit dug out by the Department of Highways about 35 years ago. Bill’s company, Nagaya Forest Restoration Limited, works with local woodlot owners interested in sustainable forestry. He also certifies forests for the Forest Stewardship Council whose standards are the toughest and highest in the world.

Left: Bill McKay of Nagaya Forest Restoration discusses how forest is reclaiming an area that was mined for shale several decades ago.

He showed us how horsetail and coltsfoot are among the first plants to start reclaiming the pit for other kinds of growth. Both these plants can grow under poor conditions. Then, if there is enough moisture, come the willow and alders. Alders take nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil. Meanwhile, other small plants—mosses, herbs, fungi—take hold and form complex relationships with living forms both under the soil and above it. Poplar moves in, white birch, then sugar maple. Now there’s habitat for the birds who also distribute seeds to new habitats.

Right: Field Day guests listen to Bill's presentation. That's current NSWOOA President Lorne Burrows in the center (wearing a light blue jacket).

Essential to all these species and to insects is water. As Bill says, "Everything needs a drink.” Amphibians and reptiles thrive in and around the pond as do salamanders, those small creatures essential to the health of the forest because they eat “bad bugs”. In fact, Bill calls the mole salamander the “ground woodpecker”. Dragonflies take care of mosquitoes and black flies above the ground. Birds and bats do the work in higher aerial space.

Bill showed how all these species worked together for the past 30 years to naturally reclaim the pit and prepare the way for the larger species such as red spruce and yellow birch. In a couple of hundred years, if left alone, this would be an Acadian Forest area restored according to Forest Time.

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OTHER PRESENTERS talked about how to manage a woodlot for hardwood (Tom Miller), how to encourage the natural regeneration of valuable species such as red spruce without using clearcuts and herbicide spraying (Wade Prest), and how to help hemlock growth and regeneration (Minga O’Brien). Karen Diadick Casselman, well-known plant dye expert, spoke of how to "read" the lichen of the forest to assess levels of various pollutants.

Art Lynds, an ecological scientist with the Department of Natural Resources, explained how clearcuts breed “bad beetles” who thrive in the stumps left behind after harvesting and then migrate to devour nearby stands of previously healthy trees. He referred to some recent scientific studies, which have demonstrated that insect infestations are a sign of unhealthy forests and poor forest management practices. Instead of being the problem, as is commonly thought, the insects are a symptom of the need for change at a deeper level of forestry practices. Lynd also spoke about the value of dead wood on the forest floor as a source of soil enrichment and as home to so many of the small forest mammals, birds and insects.

Left: Former NSWOOA President Wade Prest spoke about how to encourage natural regeneration.

Wade Prest and Minga O’Brien also stressed how important it is to leave the forest floor “messy” so that the natural processes of decay and regeneration can work their magic. Prest, in particular, talked about how he had to learn to not salvage all fallen logs but to leave many of them on the ground as an investment in the future forest.

Right: NSWOOA board member Minga O'Brien works on behalf of the Acadian Forest with the Standing Tall Campaign.

The enthusiasm and knowledge of the presenters and many of the people on the tours made this a memorable day. Around us were the beautiful hardwoods and clear evidence of the careful select cutting and silviculture work of Paul Brison and his family. For a brief human instant, we experienced Forest Time in all its glory and complexity.