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Disagreements continue over Northern Peninsula’s forestry

The Holson Sawmill was built in Roddickton in 2011. The town is hoping to put it back to use. Submitted photo
The Holson Sawmill was built in Roddickton in 2011. The town is hoping to put it back to use. Submitted photo

Glenn Payne says harvesting would benefit forest health; Main Brook man believes it would damage environment

NORTHERN PENINSULA, NL – Forestry instructor Glenn Payne identifies the Northern Peninsula as an area of the province that is underutilizing its forestry potential.

But Leander Pilgrim, a Main Brook man with experience in the Northern Peninsula’s forestry industry, believes Payne’s got it all wrong.

And he ardently maintains there’s only enough forest resource on the Northern Peninsula for local use.

Payne, an instructor at College of the North Atlantic in Corner Brook, says he’s encouraged by the interest expressed by Active Energy to put a pellet plant on the Northern Peninsula.

In fact, he believes harvesting would actually help improve forest health.

He could not comment on exactly how Active Energy plans to conduct its potential operation on the Northern Peninsula, but says there is an opportunity for some industrial use given the current lack of activity.

“There is no doubt there is a portion of the forest that is eligible for harvest and it would only make sense, as you would in any forest, to have a portion of that being harvested for some benefit,” said Payne.

Payne says the province is undercutting the annual allowable cut of its forests. He believes government should be able to cut approximately two million cubic metres of forest per year; instead, it’s barely cutting 50 per cent of this amount.

Payne identifies the Northern Peninsula, along with Labrador and central Newfoundland, as the three regions where the province’s forests are being “drastically underutilized.”

He highlights the older age of the predominantly balsam fir forest as one issue for the ecosystem.

According to Payne, balsam fir is a relatively short-living species, and its age of 120 years is extremely old by the species’ standards.

“That would be the equivalent of most humans living to 120 or 130 years old,” he said. “You’re dealing with a species that starts to topple out at age 80 or 90.”

At a certain age, the forest will stop growing. Therefore, the balsam fir will have a higher biomass at a younger age.

By age 120, Payne says, a lot of the forest’s volume has been lost.

“So from a climate change point of view, it’s a bit of an issue for us,” he said.

“Your forest is getting old because you’re not cutting it. You need to try and work with nature and basically manage the forest.”

But Pilgrim, who managed a mill and plant out of Main Brook for many years, believes there are barely enough trees for the people who live on the Northern Peninsula to use.

“The older trees now are harvestable for our own use for the long period of time,” said Pilgrim. “The younger trees are coming out while the (older) trees are being harvested now for people’s use.”

He says people are using trees for firewood or for building cabins and homes.

And he believes people are going to start relying more on wood to heat their homes once their electricity bills increase due to the Muskrat Falls project.

Clear cutting or selective cutting?

Payne advises that clear cutting rather than selective cutting would be the most environmentally safe method of harvesting the forest.

“Selective cutting is highly inappropriate for Newfoundland in general and the boreal forest in general,” said Payne.

With selective cutting you never remove all of the forest, and just remove bits of it for use.

Payne says the problem with that, from both a biological and ecological perspective, is that balsam fir is a fairly shallow-depth species and doesn’t do very well in that situation.

“You’ll see that in buffer zones, where if people leave parts of stands and it all tends to blow down, that’s basically nature’s response to tinkering with that community of plants,” he said.

Clear cutting, on the other hand, takes place when you remove a portion of the forest all in a single pass.

This is the best method to use, according to Payne.

“The best silvicultural system, which most people tend to have a problem with, is clear cutting,” he said. “But from an ecological perspective and from an operational and economic perspective, it is by far the best match harvesting system out there for the boreal forest, and particularly for western Newfoundland.”

Question of environmental destruction

Pilgrim has a problem with clear cutting. He maintains it can damage the land and entire ecosystem.

“These heavy machines – I know how it works,” he said. “You’re flattening everything. The trees there, 10 years old, the new growth that is torn right to pieces. The terrain is torn to pieces with this heavy equipment and there’s not a hope in hell for it to re-populate in the time of our children and grandchildren.”

Pilgrim believes clear cutting would destroy the very way of life of people on the Northern Peninsula.

He says the land would dry up, making fire a new potential issue never seen before on the Northern Peninsula.

And he believes it would poison and destroy habitats for fish and land animals.

“The whole thing is damaging,” said Pilgrim.

He’s scared the whole ecosystem would be destroyed in less than 20 years.

“We wants to be here for hundreds of years,” he said.

Payne, for his part, says the main issue with clear cutting is that there’s a window of time – from the time of cutting to the age of about 10, or perhaps up to 20 depending on the location – when the forest won’t be as pretty as a normal forest.

Pilgrim believes this could affect tourism.

“What’s there going to be to sight see?” he asks. “A ball of rock for the next 80 years until the trees grows.”

And he believes it would therefore hurt business for hunting outfitters.

Payne, however, says there are planning protocols and environmental processes already in place to make it difficult to “mess it up.”

“There’s lots of checks and balances in terms of what you can and can’t do in the forest,” he added.

This idea echoed sentiments expressed by Active Energy CEO Richard Spinks published in a Sept. 27 article of the Northern Pen.

“From an ecological perspective, it doesn’t scare me whatsoever that someone is looking to do something up there,” said Payne.

But Pilgrim isn’t having it, and plans to reach out to government to advise it to halt any possible agreement with Active Energy.

He says anyone who wants to discuss the situation can give him a call at 865-6111.

“If there’s anything they’d like to know, whether they think it’s good or bad or whatever, give me a call,” he said. “Talk to someone who has been in the forest for a few days.”

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