P.E.I. woodlot owners urge provincial government to take more steps in response to Fiona

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — The P.E.I. Woodlot Owners Association is asking the P.E.I. government to take stronger action regarding tree damage assessments and management plans following post-tropical storm Fiona.

At a legislative committee meeting in Charlottetown on Oct. 20, members of the association, PEIWOA, discussed their concerns regarding cleanup assessments of their lots, and what protections the province plans to put in place going forward.

Kathy Stuart, PEIWOA board chair, King's County, told those present her group has been advocating for resources and long-term solutions to the already stressed forestry and woodland sector for over a decade.

“PEIWOA is concerned about the long-term impacts of Fiona on timber supply for the province’s forestry sector,” said Stuart.

To properly quantify the devastation felt across the province would involve the use of satellite imagery, drones, forest volume monitoring and other work to come up with a reasonable estimate of the timber value lost, taking time and compensation.

But Stuart said rushing to plant trees in damaged areas is not a necessary or wise use of public dollars, as many of these areas will recover naturally.

And, although it does create a potential fire risk, there is simply no way all of the downed wood can be recovered.

“Not every landowner wants their lot cleaned up. We should explore other methods to deal with all the wood damaged,” she said.

From the province, the PEIWOA would like to see public areas cleaned, and management plans for new woodlots put in place.

Currently, it is not mandatory in P.E.I. to file a management plan when planting a wood lot. This should be mended, so landowners must complete one within five years through the Forest Enhancement Program, FEP.

“The FEP program is critical to moving forward the sustainable management of P.E.I. dollars and it needs more funding available to promote sustainable forestry over the long term," said Stuart.

As of 2022, P.E.I. does not have a dedicated forestry department. Any issues regarding the forestry sector fall under the Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action.

As a result, many woodlot owners find it difficult to get information about what they are allowed to do on their property and have been cleaning up public roads and pathways close to their properties at their own expense.

Marcel Arsenault, board member for the PEIWOA in Prince County, told the committee another concern is that wood lot owners are carrying out this work themselves without proper training.

“There seems to be a shortage of people on the Island writing management plans,” said Arsenault.

He said mini-management plans and incentives aimed at educating woodlot owners on how to use a chainsaw and providing incentives to contractors for fire hazard reduction are what is needed now.

Enhanced mental health programs should be made available for woodlot owners with heavy tree loss, and tree planting fees should also be waived, he said.

Wanson Hemphill, member of the board for PEIWOA in Queen’s County, told committee members about his concerns over the amount of deadfall across the province.

“It’d be hard to put out a fire on your woodlot where all of the trees are down,” said Hemphill. “This is going to be a big problem. We’ve got all this stuff down and nothing to do with it.”

With so much wood now available, there is also the issue of trying to sell it, as it will rot if it sits untouched for more than five years.

"We’ve got perfectly good lumber and we do have a short window,” said Hemphill.

Rafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian