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In the wake of widespread damage caused by Tropical Storm Fiona in the Maritimes, we collaborated with our partners from the Nova Scotia Family Forest Network to provide support to the wider community of private woodland stewards. If Fiona caused damage to your woodlot, there are several things you should consider as you respond.
The good news? We’re here to help.
Here, we answer some common questions about immediate next steps for concerned land- and woodlot owners. We will continue to update this page in response to what we hear on the ground.
Getting accurate information should be your first step. Assessing the extent of the affected stands and considering how they affect your long-term goals will inform how you should react. Although you may want to act immediately, it is crucial to take time to identify the most appropriate response. If you are concerned about the economic impact of storm damage, talk to a forest professional and financial advisor about how any interventions or loss might affect you immediately and how it might affect your long-term plans.
Talking to a forest professional, whether a service cooperative, marketing board, or an independent consultant, should be the first line for most people to get accurate estimates of loss. Drone photography combined with targeted on-the-ground inventory data can be useful to assess storm damage.
When consulting with a forest professional, be clear about your long-term goals. Communicate that you would like them to have an open mind, instead of rushing to a foregone conclusion that active interventions are necessary and desired.
More information may become available from remote sensing like LiDAR and satellite imagery, which may reduce the cost of damage assessments in a timely fashion.
These are going to be very individual decisions that each forest owner will have to make based on data from damage assessments. But there are practical considerations about the feasibility of salvage, for example, the economic value versus the ecological value of what has been affected, ease of access, and the volume of product that can be extracted from the affected areas. Salvage harvests are difficult as they are more dangerous, harder to plan operations in, and often the wood quality is affected by the damage. Determining if your neighbours have similarly affected areas they want to salvage could increase the feasibility of harvesting and removing smaller volumes of timber.
One of the key things missing from working forests across the region is coarse woody debris: rotting logs and stumps that provide habitat and increase biodiversity. Retaining some windthrow and downed woody debris is going to benefit the forest and all the habitats and services that the forest provides, not to mention benefit the nutrient balance for future growing trees. Deciding exactly how much downed wood to leave is a tricky question to answer and one that scientists and forest managers are actively tackling: it needs to balance biodiversity and habitat needs, nutrient budgets, soil productivity, and future operational considerations for follow up silviculture.
The amount of time you have to act depends on how badly damaged the trees are and what species they are. Almost all primary forest product facilities weigh-scale their products, which means that they base a tree’s value on its mass. As the temperature warms in the spring, trees will lose mass quickly and lose value. Saw material that is fully down is the fastest to degrade in value. Hardwood logs often are unsaleable within weeks in the summer and several months in winter, whereas softwood saw material will keep for up to one year, but degrade in value due to moisture loss. Least at risk are products like firewood that need to “season” to be saleable and are sold by volume. It is best to consult with a forest professional or talk to those primary producers about your particular concerns.
Please remember to consider your health and safety first and foremost. Storm damaged trees can be extremely hazardous to harvest safely manually. They can hide dangerous features like spring poles—broken limbs and root masses that can spring back into place when released from the stem of the tree. If you aren’t properly trained for these situations it’s best to leave harvesting to a professional.
If you engage a contractor to salvage wood on your property, many of the same considerations apply as to a regular harvest:
A local wood co-op, marketing board or forest association can guide you through the process of hiring a contractor.
Many forest owners will be concerned about how tree damage has impacted their forest. Remember that windthrow is natural and is the primary method for forest regeneration in the Wabanaki forest (also known as the Acadian forest). Natural disturbances like hurricanes can affect our sense of place and permanence, and they can take time to process and put into context. But storm damage can have a positive impact. For example, it can positively impact biodiversity on a smaller scale. Intense harvesting over the past century has changed our forests, removing or reducing natural features like coarse woody debris that support wildlife habitat.
Concerns about loss or damage to remaining old trees are valid and edge effects—conditions that occur at sites of abrupt change in the forest, like the edge of a clear-cut or road—on unharvested forests are particularly concerning at the individual woodlot scale. You can mitigate future damage by leaving buffers on boundary lines and at the edges of interventions to prevent the risk of wind tunnel effects in mature stands. These types of actions often require good communication and coordination with your neighbours.
We know that events like post-tropical storm Fiona can heavily impact the production of non-timber forest products like maple syrup, and recovery and mitigation efforts for people who are affected will be an ongoing process. Diversity in these forests can play a similar role as it does in the larger forest matrix by ensuring that forest disturbance events don’t affect a producer’s entire productive forest.
As the climate shifts, storms like Fiona are predicted to become increasingly frequent and severe in the Maritimes. That's why we're here to provide the support you need to make your forests more resilient in the face of a changing climate.
Generally, increasing the resilience of the forest through a well-considered mix of appropriate interventions and management that promotes diversity will help mitigate future impacts of climate change. Encouraging climate-resilient species and spatial patterns that resist windthrow, like gap shelterwood harvests, will help prevent broad and large-scale disturbance in small family forests. Please refer to resources like the Climate Change Resilience and Carbon Storage Silvicultural Prescriptions for the Wabanaki-Acadian Forest Region (here) and videos like the Our Changing Forests video series (here). Talk to your local forest service provider about ecological forestry.
For landowners already enrolled in Community Forests International and the Natural Capital Exchange’s pilot program, this unplanned natural event may affect the number of carbon credits you are entitled to this year but you will not be penalized, as per your agreement. In some cases, if the damage is minimal, you may see no change. In other cases, you may lose a percentage of the credits but will still be eligible to re-enroll next year with an updated amount. However, you should not harvest standing trees if you are in the program. The program would consider harvesting these trees a reversal and may prevent you from participating again.
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