MAITLAND VALLEY – Maitland Conservation (MC) is conducting a forest health study to determine the current situation of forests in the watershed region.
The 2021 study will help to evaluate the condition and health of all levels of the forests, including monitoring invasive species that may be growing in the woodlots and infestations of destructive bugs such as gypsy moths and ash borers.
This year’s study will follow-up on a similar study that MC did in 2000.
Watershed Ecologist Erin Gouthro recently made a presentation to MC board members explaining the process and answering the questions of why the study is so important.
Healthy forests are critical for resilience and for healthy watersheds, Gouthro said. She added that erosion, flooding, climate, water quality and biodiversity are some of the things they are recording in the study.
Forests are facing many challenges including continued loss due to human pressures, changing climate and a host of invasive plants and bugs.
The 2021-2022 field study will measure the health and resilience of our forests by looking at the key health indicators in both fieldwork and geospatially (a term indicating that data that has a geographic component to it. This means that the records in a dataset have locational information tied to them such as geographic data in the form of coordinates, address, or city.)
Through field study, MC staff will gather measurements and do plant studies at site plots within the woodlot. Field methods will ensure the woodlot is minimally disturbed.
Forest health indicators will include:
- The year class of the forests. Staff will measure the circumference (width around) of the trees in a specific spot and record the species. This information shows whether a bush is maturing with larger trees. Larger trees are more valuable as habitat for wildlife and for timber harvest.
- Forests are facing unprecedented pressure from forest pests such as the Emerald Ash Borer. This small insect, native to Asia, kills ash trees. By understanding the prevalence and impacts of pests likes Ash Borer, we are able to take management actions, such as re-planting, to address these issues. Pest presence is measured by counting trees that have signs of damage.
- Vegetation growing under the forest canopy tells whether a bush is in good shape or is struggling from disturbance. Native vegetation also supports native animals and important insects like bees, Plant communities are studied by identifying the plants in small sub-plots.
- Assessing deadwood within a forest is a measure of whether the engines of forest regeneration are working. Dead wood supplies growing trees with nutrients and provides habitat to animals and birds. Assessing the amount of dead wood indicates whether a forest is well supplied with nutrients needed for growth.
- Deer will sometimes have impact on woodlots by overeating tree seedlings. Understanding the impact deer helps to of make decisions about re-planting.
Across our watershed, woodlots are used to enjoy and to provide economic benefit through forest harvesting. Previous forest studies showed that in 1999 woodlots provided $8 million in local revenue. Accounting for inflating, that’s equivalent to about $13 million today.
From beautiful places to hike to forestry resources to critical habitat for animals, the forest study will review how forests are currently used and how best we can support and grow our forests to ensure their services are available to us tomorrow.
Maitland Conservation will use the forest health assessment to partner with other conservation organizations, like the Ontario Hemlock Database Project.
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times