Timber Harvesting in the Ganaraska Forest – The How and Why

If you have ever walked or rode the trails in the Ganaraska Forest, you may have come across some trees marked for harvest with orange paint slashes. Better yet, you may have even come across the wonderful Christmas-like smell of a recently cut Pine plantation. The annual timber harvest is an important component of the sustainable management of the Ganaraska Forest; however despite this, many still do not know how or why these trees are selected to be cut down.

In the early 20th century, the lands of the Ganaraska Forest were a far cry from what they are now. Destructive farming practices had left the land a barren wasteland of rapidly-eroding blowsands. To combat this, rows of conifer trees (particularly Red Pine) were planted for their tolerance to the harsh conditions. Over time, these trees have grown into healthy, mature forests; stabilizing the blowing sands, protecting key water sources in the Ganaraska Watershed and allowing for the production of sustainable timber resources.

Prior to selecting any of these trees for harvest, the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority (GRCA) first assess the condition of forest stands through a detailed survey known as a timber cruise. The timber cruise provides a snapshot of the species composition, size and density of trees in that particular area. Timber cruises also record other important information that aids the GRCA in selecting potential harvest areas, including assessments of tree regeneration, wildlife habitat and invasive species presence.

This information is then used by a Registered Professional Forester (RPF) to develop a silvicultural prescription. Much like how a doctor prescribes treatments to make us feel better, RPFs prescribe treatments in the form of timber harvests to maintain and improve the health of forest stands. These are implemented on the ground by trained Tree Markers who ensure that poor quality trees are selected first for harvest while the healthiest and most valuable trees are left to grow. Most of the plantations in Ganaraska have been prescribed a series of selective thinnings that gradually transition the stand from plantation to a more natural, diverse and resilient forest. The selective removal of small portions of the conifer canopy allows more light into the understorey, which encourages more shade-tolerant species like Red Oak, White Pine and Sugar Maple to establish themselves. Facilitating this transition allows the GRCA to fulfil its mandate of “Clean Water, Healthy Land for Healthy Communities” while also serving as a point source of local jobs and sustainable and renewable wood products. Although every effort is made to conduct harvesting operations in ways that reduce impacts on recreational forest uses and on 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 harvest operations or would like some more information about the sustainable management of the Ganaraska Forest, please contact GRCA’s Forester, Gus Saurer at gsaurer@grca.on.ca. Your local Conservation Authority is always happy to discuss the history and future management of southern Ontario’s largest, contiguous forest.