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Rétablir la biodiversité

L'importance des arbres naturels est profondément enracinée dans notre style de gestion forestière.

De cette façon, nous pouvons espérer restaurer une petite parcelle de la forêt acadienne originelle.

Que vous rétablissiez une forêt, plantiez un brise-vent ou que vous naturalisiez une pelouse, les plantes indigènes sont un bon choix : elles sont adaptées aux conditions climatiques de notre région et elles remplissent une variété de fonctions à l'intérieur de notre écosystème.













































"The importance 
of wildlife
trees is deeply ingrained in
our style of forest management.
In this way,
we hope to restore a 
small piece of the original



Restoring biodiversity

Gary Schneider
Supervised Macphail Woods, a project of the 
Environmental Coalition of Prince Edward Island 
and the Sir Andrew Macphail Foundation

April 2004

Ehen the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project began in 1991, the key focus was the restoration of native Acadian woodlands. I had seen enough remnants of those forests, filled with large old yellow birch, sugar maple, white pine, red spruce and hemlock, to make me fall in love. I knew that these forests could produce high-value products and be incredible reservoirs for wildlife.

(photo: Gary Schneider)

In Prince Edward Island, we have no large areas of original Acadian forest rich in large, high-value trees such as white pine, red spruce, sugar maple and yellow birch. Instead, there are young stands of white spruce, balsam fir, red maple and white birch. As a province, we have impoverished our forests and diminished their associated values. The reliance on conifer plantations only continues this degradation.

I recently visited a forest that been healthy Acadian woodland 200 years ago, farmed for 150 years, then abandoned to grow up primarily in white spruce. This is a common succession of farmland in the province. A local contractor said it was falling down and should be clearcut and replaced with a white pine plantation. My assessment was that indeed the white spruce were starting to die, but that small patch cuts would create the conditions in which the stand's existing diversity would thrive. When I looked at the stand, I saw young American beech, red maple, white birch, yellow birch, striped maple, balsam fir (up to about 15 feet tall) and half a dozen species of shrubs. The stand already had a good start. Small patch cuts would generate lumber and could then be planted with red oak, white ash, and white pine--a range of high-value species that benefit from side shading.

The problem for woodlot owners is that if they decide to defer some of their income (harvesting the remaining patches in the future) or actually give up some of their income (by allowing more trees to die and fall to the ground), they receive little support from the province. Whereas, if they liquidate the stand, they get lots of money from the contractor and the cost of the plantation is more than 90% subsidized. Doubly damned.

It is important to protect the diversity of all our natural ecosystems, whether that be wetlands, forests or shorelines. We need to become "intelligent tinkerers," as Aldo Leopold suggests, handling woodlands with humility and care.

(photo: Gary Schneider)

Plantations remind me of potato fields, though in some ways the potato growers use a bit more common sense. Someone planting a large block of potatoes, even an organic farmer, would know beyond a doubt that there would be insect and disease problems. The farmer would have a plan to deal with these as they arose. Remember that these are 6-month crops that are within easy reach. Plantations, now that's another problem. How do you control problems in a crop that is going to occupy the ground for 40-80 years and is planned to be almost unreachable.

We have been seeing problems in plantations for years here--when the black spruce stand turns brown from a sawfly infestation, it is a very visible reminder of our fallibility. While the province has initiated a new program that is heading in the right direction, a huge majority of funding goes into conifer plantations.

Instead of creating plantations, we have a real opportunity to restore the native Acadian forest. True, this will take time, but it will also be an effort that brings great reward. We can continue the large-scale degradation that has taken place since Europeans first set foot on this Island. Or we can create healthy, diverse forest systems that provide a huge array of products, and also serve many other valuable roles--cleaning air, purifying water, protecting streams, storing carbon, housing wildlife and providing places for recreation.

Restoration should be seen as a tool for adding seed plants to an area. Upland forests that have been repeatedly clearcut might be lacking in hemlock or white pine. Old-field white spruce stands create excellent opportunities to add high value species and introduce rarer plants. Though initially expensive, if the idea of "seeding" is kept in mind, restoration is actually quite affordable. What you successfully plant should later spread by natural methods and the large-scale costs diminish significantly. At Macphail Woods, the young yellow birch, white ash and striped maple trees we planted are already producing seed, as are the shrubs that we have added to improve biodiversity and food supply.

(photo: Gary Schneider)

One way that woodlot owners can be involved in this restoration is by working on their own property, or a community watershed project. My own farm has some mixed hardwood stands in relatively good health and fields that have grown up predominantly in white spruce. My partner and I have been harvesting firewood in small blocks, removing severely cankered beech, and poorly shaped red maple. These areas are now opportunities to plant white pine, yellow birch, hemlock, or other late-successional species, which we embrace with gusto. The spruce will be harvested in small blocks, where we will again look at planting with those species and others such as white ash and red oak. In both areas, we will allow trees to get old, die and fall to the ground. The importance of wildlife trees is deeply ingrained in our style of forest management. In this way, we hope to restore a small piece of the original Acadian forest.

Whether restoring a forest, planting a windbreak, or naturalizing a lawn, native plants are good choices--they have adapted to the climatic conditions of the area and serve a variety of functions within the ecosystem. Most are proven performers--hardy, fitting into a wide variety of habitats, valuable to wildlife, useful for stabilizing stream banks and/or controlling soil erosion. We are building whole landscape designs around hemlock, eastern white cedar, witch hazel, serviceberry, red oak, bay, red osier dogwood and many other native plants that are as beautiful as any imports.

A good starting point to restoring biodiversity is to carefully match the plant to the site. It makes little sense to plant a sun-loving tree in the shade or a shrub that will not tolerate wet feet along a stream. If you use common sense and caution when planning and planting, you won't go too far wrong.