Earth area


 visit the current theme


Stratgie de survie pour les petits boiss

La nature du problme auquel font face lindustrie forestire en gnral et les milieux cologiques forestiers en particulier est simple :  on rcolte trop et trop souvent et ce, sans tenir compte de lcosystme forestier.

Dans une fort diversifie et tempre comme la fort acadienne de lest du Canada, ce type dapproche industrielle ne peut que rsulter dans une fort diminue et amoindrie.  La fort originelle est presque disparue (on estime quil ne reste que 1 % de vieux bois) et la repousse sest dgrade avec par la disparition de nombreuses espces.

Notre manque de considration pour nos propres forts les a laisses dans un pitre tat.

Il devrait tre vident que nous devrions modifier nos faons dintervenir en fort.  Nous tous, propritaires consciencieux de boiss, dveloppons un certain nombre dapproches alternatives afin que nous puissions continuer de vivre de nos forts.



Survival Strategies for
the Small Woodlot Forest

Marc Spence
Tantramar Environmental Alliance
June 2003

I am a woodland owner living on the eastern coast of New Brunswick in a tiny coastal village called Baie Verte. My family has been living here for about 250 years and we have been involved in the forest industry for most of that time. My grandfather ran one of the last independent saw mills in the municipality, and my brother and I carry on that tradition today on our 1000 acres of woodland where we operate a small eco-forestry business.

Mike Spence on the Spence Woodlot

(photo: Marc Spence)

I want to begin by saying that I am writing this with a sense of dismay over what I see happening in the forests in my region, and around the world. The nature of the problem for the forest industry in general, and for forest ecologies in my region, is simple: we are taking too much and too frequently, without regard for the forest ecosystem. The end result of this industrial approach to forestry is that the relatively diverse temperate Acadian forest of Eastern Canada is much diminished in stature, structure and in species composition. Our lack of consideration for our own forests has left them in a sadly depleted state.

The Acadian forest region is a unique temperate forest because it is a transitional forest that connects the Northern Boreal forest and the Carolinian forest that dominates the landscape south of us. There are approximately 32 shrub and tree species and understory tree species within 21 different forest zones. The range includes both conifer and deciduous trees that occur in mixed forests and in forests of pure conifer or forests of pure deciduous. And there are a number of Old Growth species unique to the region like the Red Spruce and Eastern Hemlock.

Much of the original forest is gone (it is estimated that there is less than 1% of Old Growth left), and the secondary forest is degraded by a loss of a number of species from their former range; Red Spruce is one of these species. Also, tolerant hardwood forest stands of Red Oak, Sugar Maple, American Beech and White and Black Ash are under threat. White Pine forest and Eastern Hemlock forest stands are being degraded or supplanted by disturbance tolerant species such as spruce, white spruce, red maple, and white birch.

This happens on a small scale on woodlot farms, but it has a more serious impact when corporate freehold and Crown land (on Provincial lease) make industry decisions to plant only fast growing conifer species such as Black Spruce. The fast growing tree farms suit a forest management that favors high volume cutting. The tragedy of this process is that it is simplifying the Acadian forest to support one particular management regime. As we lose the diverse forest ecologies, we lose the potential for a diverse forest economy.
Another problem that smaller forest land managers are facing is land tenure. Large international forest industry companies own the mills and lease virtually all the crown land (public forests). In New Brunswick where the land area is approximately 7 million Ha with 86% of that land classified as forested, six companies own all the mills and hold all the crown leases. In fact, they lease 50% of the forested land in the province. These companies own outright 20% of forested lands and the remaining 30% of forest lands is owned by small operators like myself.

(photo: Marc Spence)

The small woodland forest managers supply a significant volume of material to the industrial forestry sector, but with contentiously low stumpage rates on crown forest harvests, our woodlot marketing associations have little bargaining power with the mills. The economics create a situation where it is often not worth cutting trees unless you can cut a lot, possibly cutting everything. The wood lot owner and the contractor are stuck in the 'low value/ high volume' trap that works against sound ecological forest management and the long term supply goals for the industry.

It should be apparent that we in the forestry community must change the way we do things in the forest, and that changing the way we do things begins with me and my brother. All of us conscientious land owners are working on a number of alternative approaches so that we can maintain a living from our land.

The land that I live and work on suffers from 200 years of over harvesting and a subsequent loss of species diversity. The species that we have lost are the high value ones: White Pine, Red Spruce, Red Oak, Sugar Maple, Beech, White and Black Ash. We do have stands of mature high value Red and Black Spruce of 100 to 200 years, and mixed stands of Red and Black Spruce, Yellow Birch with scattered Sugar Maple, Ash and White Pine. Also, there are a few areas of pure Red Maple swamp. This range of high value forest types exists on approximately 30% of our woodland.

On the remaining 70% of our land is a range of younger disturbance tolerant stands of 20 to 100 years old. Other species that appear are mixes of White Spruce, Balsam Fir, Black Spruce, White Spruce and Red Maple, White and Yellow Birch. An old abandoned pasture might have White Spruce mixed with Eastern Larch and White Birch and Red Maple.

Not what you would call the most desirable forest to work with, but for the present we make do with what we have in the short term, and plan for the future forest. This involves a working strategy for the restoration of at least some of the old forest: the high value stands that once populated our forests and belong on this land.  Right now there is only one strategy that allows us to realize any real financial return from our woodland and avoid the over harvesting high grading trap that affects so many woodlot forests in my region. We follow a low volume/high value strategy in the forest and at the mill. We process as much of our own wood as possible, and we market as much of our own wood as possible.

In the forest, this strategy means two things: (1) we don't have to cut much wood and (2) we don't need to finance any high volume expensive machinery. To do our own harvesting we need chain saws, a few good log trailers, a 60 horsepower four-wheel drive tractor with a loader for the long haul from the wood pile to the mill, and a well trained horse for the short haul from the felling area to the wood pile.

Our set up at the mill yard is simple: one building houses the mill kiln room and machine room. The mill is a Mighty Mite 2" band saw set up with a fuel efficient 30 hp diesel power plant. We mill almost everything we cut up, except for what gets culled and sent to the company mills. We kiln dry most of what we mill in a 2000 cubic foot dehumidification kiln room built right into the mill building. What comes out of the kiln can be planed, edged, shaped or custom cut to anyone's specification in the wood shop.

Marketing is the other important aspect of the strategy. We do a range of things to get ' out there', like taking out small advertisements in the local papers and in specialty trade papers.

(photo: Marc Spence)

We have a website ( set up by our Federation of Woodlot Owners and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. But we find that just plain old 'word of mouth' seems to work just fine.
By clearly identifying our markets and selecting and matching every stick of wood to those markets, we are adding value to everything we cut including much of the so called undesirable species we have on our own land. For example, the Red Spruce logs that we would have sold to the company mill before we were set up to process and market, would have been worth only a few dollars. But now we sell this same wood, kiln dried and custom cut, to a guitar maker for guitar tops for a few hundred dollars.

The 50 year old Black Spruce pole thinned from a Black Spruce stand (worth a few cents at the mill) will be worth $30 when we mill it into a 'pole jump' for a riding stable. The Red Spruce Maple or White Birch log that usually ends up in the fire wood load at $100.00/cord is worth $1.00 to $2.00/board foot to the right woodworker. The Eastern Larch that I might have added to my load of pulp, that could have caused a rejection for the entire load, can now be turned into custom cut kiln dried flooring at $1.00 to $ 2.00 board foot.

With the low volume/high value strategy, we are using traditionally undesirable disturbance related species, which means we don't need to cut as much of our high value timber to make money. And, we are harvesting less than 0.5% of our forest in a harvest season. We do 90% of our harvesting, stand thinning, and road building in the winter so as to make less of a disturbance on the forest ecosystems, aquatic systems, and wildlife populations. Our degraded forest gets a chance to heal, meanwhile allowing for other values such as the non-consumptive, recreational uses for a forest. And, there is time and space for the forest just to be a forest.

We are running a cost effective, efficient and ecologically sound operation on our land. We have committed to this approach to managing our woodlands to the extent that we are in the process of seeking the internationally recognized F.S.C. (Forest Stewardship Council Certification), or 'Green Certification', for our forestry and processing operation.

(photo: Marc Spence)

The long term vision we have for our woodlands is based on the belief that it is our responsibility to attempt to restore some of the forest, stands, and species that are underrepresented in our region or no longer exist. It is our personal belief that we must demonstrate an alternative to the management strategy of planting, or thinning for, the one or two conifer species of choice.

To this end my own 40 acres house site has become a tree nursery for many of the native trees and shrubs species of Atlantic Canada. We plant this nursery stock back into our stands, in particular into our more degraded stands. This process of restoration forestry not only involves the planting of dominant tree and shrub species but also in planting ground cover soil plugs taken from remnant stands in order to reestablish more complete plant associations wherever possible.

This is something we are doing for completely altruistic reasons. The odds are that we will not harvest any of this planting, but it is done in the hopes that it will restore the forest for the future.

My brother and I spend a lot of time trying to convince other woodland owners and our marketing associations to form small co-ops or small corporations that will enable them to do as much processing and marketing on their own as possible. We emphasize that the concepts and techniques of 'ecoforestry' are a way of insuring the long term viability of their woodlot business and forests. We also try to convince our fellow land owners to consider placing their lands in some form of land trust as a way of insuring some long term continuity of good stewardship.

The brutal truth is that the acceptance and adoption of these strategies may be the only way left for the small woodlot owner to survive, and for their forest to remain ecologically relevant.