Forest of tomorrow to rise from the ashes

A teacher's forestry tour from the Canadian Ecology Centre recently visited the forest fire site north of River Valley one year later.Bill Steer Photo Picasa / jpg, NB

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Forest fires engulfed our region last July.

One 2,500-hectare fire, NOR062, was one of the blazes within the Temagami cluster of wild fires.

Daryl Sebesta of Nipissing Forest Resource Management (NFRM) says NOR062 started around Hand (brown bear) Lake and ran north-northeast, north of River Valley.

“Lightning started this fire on July 9 and it was a modest size for a few days, then high winds and lack of rain caused it to go from around 300 hectares to over 2,000 hectares in a day,” Sebesta recalls.

“Flames were reported to be 100 to 150 metres in height, and this was a rare Crown fire in white pine-dominated forest, which is more common in boreal jack pine and spruce forests.”

The fire was aggressively attacked by water bombers, then was held by ground crews that worked on suppressing ground fires and hot spots. It was declared out on Aug. 18.

I was there two weeks later when the salvage operation started, and returned to the site this year.

This fire occurred in the working forest, as opposed to other fires in 2018 that mostly occurred in parks. It was wild fire burned mature forests that had not yet been harvested, forests that had received the first or second cut within rotational systems.

One-third of the area that burned had received a renewal treatment and 25 per cent of the area had received more than $1,000/ha in regeneration treatments (site preparation, planting, tending, thinning). It was a considerable investment.

NFRM silvicultural forester Andree Morneault describes the role of wild fires.

“Without fire, jack pine forests would not regenerate,” Morneault explains. “They would grow old and over time be replaced by other tree species. All the wildlife, insect and plant species that are dependent or which require young jack pine forests for habitat would be displaced.

“Forest management guidelines in Ontario are designed to mimic fire as closely as possible to ensure that jack pine forests are renewed and young jack pine forests are created to ensure that habitat features are present for this group of species.”

Morneault says fire intensity varied across the burned area with some areas of very high intensity where everything was killed, all forest litter and duff was burned off, and the area was essentially black.

Other areas burned less intensively, where the large white pine remained green, but everything underneath was burned off except for small green swales and depressions.

Goulard Lumber of West Nipissing was permitted to enter the NOR062 area for salvage logging. It was able to harvest 82 loads of white (73 loads) and red pine (nine loads) in eight weeks before the wood became too degraded (“Swiss cheese”) from beetle larvae tunnels.

NFRM staff spent up to 10 days walking in the burn looking for areas – young plantations, white pine shelterwood stands and young conifer stands – that would need assistance for renewal. Several areas were regenerating well without help.

“Mature jack pine was seeding in, poplar stands were reproducing by root suckers, white birch and red maple were reproducing by basal sprouts,” Morneault says.

A proposal was submitted to the Forestry Futures Fund to renew 750 hectares through site preparation, tree planting and seeding.

I recall the noise of insects burrowing in wood was deafening. Black back woodpeckers came in at the same time and flicked bark off trees looking for larva. By late this summer, however, the bush was quiet and the woodpeckers appeared to have flown to another fire.

More than 300,000 trees will be planted late this summer and another 170,000 trees will be planted in spring 2020, a mix of white and red pine.

A total of 250 hectares will be aerial seeded with either jack pine or white pine seeds to create a forest of tomorrow.

Back Roads Bill explores the backroads and back waters of Northern Ontario in the The Nugget and Nugget Extra. He is the founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre and teaches part time at Nipissing University and Canadore College.