Huge red spruce in the bottom of Walton Glen Canyon. A beautiful example of what New Brunswick's forests can be.
Recently I was camping in Walton Glen Canyon and it got me thinking about how much I appreciate our forests. But I didn't always feel this way.
Growing up here I always thought that New Brunswick had lousy forests. I was envious of the south's big hardwood trees and the west coast's rain forests. Our forests seemed thick and small. Occasionally I'd see a tree that was a foot in diameter and think whoa that's a big tree. As a child and later as a teenager, most of my experiences in the woods involved scratching through thick spruce stands or bushwhacking through hardwood thickets. This gets tiring after a while and I grew frustrated with what I thought were "normal" New Brunswick forest.
If you grew up in New Brunswick you can be forgiven for thinking that a real New Brunswick forest is a dark uninspiring thing. Because often they are...after repeated clearcutting our forests have been reduced to a fraction of their former glory. What we tend to see are forests in transition. These forests are on a long road to recovery. When you go in the woods you're probably going to be looking at white spruce, fir, red maple, and white birch all of which are just juveniles in the natural life of a forest. Forests need time to mature. Given time these quick growing juvenile species that we so commonly see, give way to the majestics - such as yellow birch, sugar maple, and red spruce.
The key to this is that those white spruce, fir, red maple, and white birch can grow in the full sun of a clearcut or farmer's field but these trees struggle under the shade of their own forest canopy. Once these trees have grown to their full size their shade stops seedlings from growing. But the majestics; such as red spruce, sugar maple, and yellow birch, can grow in these cool shady forests. This succession can take half a century.
In the past couple years I've come to appreciate New Brunswick's forests because I got the opportunity to see some old ones and that got me interested in learning more about them. I've learnt that we actually have unique forest here - called the Acadian Forest. It's a mix of conifers (evergreens) and deciduous (hardwoods) that span from northern New England, to Nova Scotia, and parts of eastern Quebec - and that's it. Not a large area but a very diverse one. In many areas of North America, forests are predominantly evergreens or hardwoods. Around here we've got a wonderful mix of the two. And despite what you may think. These trees get really big. We just don't normally leave them standing long enough to see this.
An old Acadian Forest is not only beautiful to look at but it's home to a diverse range of animals and plants. The forest also plays a crucial role in moderating our climate - not only through capturing CO2 from the atmosphere but also by cooling the surface of the earth and as recent research suggests seeding rain clouds. Which will help mitigate two of the serious concerns of our unchecked climate change. Plus, from a recreational point of view - old Acadian Forests are wide open and easy to walk through. Perhaps New Brunswickers are inactive because most of our forests are too bloody thick to walk through (just kidding).
I'm not opposed to logging and forestry. Its an important part of our heritage and our economy. And we all rely on wood for our homes and toilet paper. But the manner in which we consume this landscape is unsettling. Several centuries of intensive logging has left its toll on New Brunswick's landscape and it continues to shape our land. I understand that it may be unrealistic to do away with clearcutting completely, but I wish it would be done in a more responsible manner. As well, I feel that turning clearcuts in plantations of just one or two species and spraying pesticides to kill off the hardwoods is destructive and short sighted.
I worry that most New Brunswickers have never experienced a true, old Acadian Forest and therefore do not appreciate what it is we're losing. When all you know are scrubby little forests that are a pain to walk through, do you really care much if they get chopped down in another part of the province? I feel that you've got to experience something before you can really care about it. So I worry that by continually degrading our forests we are losing the opportunity to see what they once were and could one day again be. If we don't learn to love the woods then who is going to care if they are all turned into plantations for toilet paper.
Clearcuts south of Sussex. If you're driving to see some of New Brunswick's old forests you're bound to pass a major clearcut. But unless you venture into these backwoods areas you might just never see a major clearcut. Much of province's logging is happening in North-Central New Brunswick - out of sight for most of us.
Once a nice tree. Now it is probably toilet paper.
There's a number of places in New Brunswick where you can see what a real Acadian forest should look like. Get out there and see it for yourself. Take your children and show them a real New Brunswick forest.
The steep valleys along the Fundy Coast are probably my favorite areas. These were probably all logged at one time, but more recently the difficulty of working on steep slopes prevented the trees from being logged. But there are plenty of spots tucked away in Southern New Brunswick where you can find old forests.
Along the Fundy Footpath near Goose Creek you'll pass through stands red spruce rising from a mossy bed of ferns that conjure up images of a rainforest. (I'd argue that it is a rainforest...it gets 1.5 metres of precipitation every year on average and lots of cool foggy days to ensure it doesn't evaporate). And actually I've heard that's part of the reason the forest is so old. The moisture helps prevent forest fires.
In the Spring time the diversity of an Acadian Forest is really distinct. Notice how the lime-greens of the hardwoods stand out from the dark green conifers. As the summer goes on its harder to notice this mosaic from afar. This photo was taken above the Upper Salmon River near Alma just across the boundary Fundy National Park.
Near Martin Head (at the East of the mouth of the Quiddy River, south of Sussex) you'll find a cathedral of giant hardwoods near the coast.
Towering spruce are dwarfed by even taller cliffs at the popular rock climbing area in Welsford.
Majestic hardwoods spared from the saw in Parlee Brook just outside of Sussex. These trees are protected from logging by the 30 m setback from watercourses. Outside of this buffer, the nearby forest has been clearcut.
Giants near Bouctouche. Location unknown. Photo: Courtesay of L. Jacobs
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