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Timber Harvesting in the Ganaraska Forest – The 100 Year Quest

If you have ever walked or rode the trails in the 11, 000 acre Ganaraska Forest, you may have come across some trees marked to be logged with orange paint slashes. To the untrained eye, one might consider these an eyesore. However, the annual timber harvest is actually one of the most important and successful management tools employed by the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA) for the sustainable management of the Ganaraska Forest. But, to understand this, one must first transport themselves to the past.

In the early 20th century, the lands of the Ganaraska Forest were a far cry from what they are now. Futile and destructive farming practices had left the land a barren desert of rapidly-eroding blowsands. To combat this, early conservation leaders began a 100 year quest to grow a natural forest from scratch. They established plantations of conifer trees (particularly Red Pine) for their tolerance to the harsh conditions. The idea: use the hardy Red Pine as a nurse crop to heal the land and allow a natural forest to grow underneath it.

After about 30 years of growing Red Pine, the forest managers would schedule harvests every 10 – 15 years to thin the amount of trees overhead; thus allowing for more room to grow and for more light to reach the sheltered forest floor. This encouraged the establishment and growth of desired natural species like Red Oak and White Pine who are capable of growing under some shade.

After 70+ years since the quest began, this process has undoubtedly been a major success. The Red Pine have grown into healthy, mature trees; stabilizing the blowing sands, protecting key water sources in the Ganaraska Watershed and allowing for the production of sustainable timber resources along the way. However, most importantly, almost everywhere that was planted now has a budding, young forest growing below; ready to take over for the aging Red Pine.

With this quest nearing its end, GRCA staff have already begun planning for the next big adventure. Climate change, extreme weather, invasive species and deadly pathogens are all on the horizon, with some of those challenges already here. Successful and sustainable forest management means thinking long-term about how to combat these and the GRCA is determined to keep the Forest resilient. Whatever the journey may hold, one can be sure that the successes of timber harvesting will be deployed once again to keep our Forest healthy and strong. The GRCA’s 2019 harvest season will include the harvest of approximately 370 acres across all sections of the Ganaraska Forest, including an additional 110 acres of thinning by Peterborough County in their section of the Central Forest. Although every effort is made to conduct harvesting operations in ways that reduce impacts on recreational forest uses and the environment, visitors to the Ganaraska Forest should be aware that logging activity takes place annually from the beginning of August through the winter months. If you have any questions about GRCA’s harvest operations or would like more information about the sustainable management of the Ganaraska Forest, please contact the GRCA. Your local Conservation Authority is always happy to discuss the history and future management of southern Ontario’s largest, contiguous forest.