Sunday, January 15, 2012

No Tree Too Small!

I took this picture from the side of the road at the chipping plant in Debert. I often see truckloads of trees like this coming down my road although there are fewer of them since the NewPage mill stopped buying. The industry apologists will tell you that these small stems are just tops, small because they are using the whole tree. But I think that they are the tops of small trees, trees which we have no business harvesting.

When I am out cutting pulp in my woodlot I work my way up the tree cutting off eight-foot sticks. As I near the top I am mindful of the fact that my last stick must have a top diameter of more than three inches to meet the specifications for the best grade of pulp. But I am also acutely aware that limbing a tree down to a three-inch top is a lot of work because there are many small branches at the top, and they all have to be cut off flush with the stem. As my neighbour Carman said one day, "Once you're down to a four-inch diameter you're not making wood very fast," by which he meant that it is more trouble than it's worth to cut that small. The tops are best left on the forest floor to become duff and feed the next crop.

However, once that same tree is in the maw of a feller-buncher, the hydraulic de-limber can remove the branches right to the top with the same effort as it would take to stop at 3 or 4 inches. So they go all the way. I suspect that the two-inch tops limit for pulp reflects the fact that much smaller than that and there's more bark than tree, and it is not worth de-barking.

This has serious long-term consequences for our forests. In non-mechanised forestry we left the tops and limbs in the woods. We cut down dying trees and left them lie. We cut down wolf trees like grey birch and gnarly old poplar and we took home some for firewood and left the rest to rot in to the earth, to feed the next crop. And the opening in the canopy that the wolf trees left will allow new trees to sprout and grow. We practiced continuous canopy coverage forestry because it was too much work to take small stuff, especially since we would be back in ten years and could take it then if it was ready. We leave lots of biomass on the forest floor. That's not how industrial forestry is practised in Nova Scotia these days.

My woodlot will deliver a continuous income stream, and as I cut each year I am trying to improve the stand so that in 20 years I will have better trees, and more of them. If I sold my stumpage to the pulp companies they would take absolutely everything - hardwood, softwood, poplar - everything, and they would collapse 75 years of the revenue stream into one or perhaps two years. And my woodlot would have nothing left to see me through hard times, to provide my firewood, to filter rainwater as it becomes my wellwater.

Taking every tree leads to short rotation forestry. All of the biomass in the tops and limbs, which should be left to feed the next crop, are gone. The Europeans discovered that they were mining their forest soils and leaving a wasteland in its place when they cut their small trees, constantly. Pulp companies don't care, as they will not be here in the long run. They are here to make a return to their current investors, and the long-term health of the forest is not their concern. If they are allowed to mine the forest, they will. What does Wall Street care for Cumberland County?

Our nice shiny new NDP government was going to restrict clearcutting, as the people wanted. And then the money men came to call, and the government caved in. Our new regulations to restrict clearcutting are still not in place, giving the pulp companies lots of time to strip-mine our forests.

In just two years the NDP became the Conservatives. Everything is for sale. Come and strip our forests, frack our groundwater, stripmine our coal. Tell your friends - we're for sale! Cheap!

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