Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest

Why is Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest Special in Our Area?

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest region is characterized as a transitional zone between the Deciduous Region to the south and the Boreal Forest Region to the north. Forest composition within this zone is variable, but in the area southwest of Thunder Bay there are many naturally occurring stands composed predominantly of mature hardwood (aspen), with low-growing maple and occasional tall and quite venerable white pine.

Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest comprises a mere 10% of Northwestern Ontario’s forest, as compared to 90% Boreal Forest (map at left is from the Ontario MNR’s website).

Forest Regions MapDeciduous habitat is of special value in the area southwest of Thunder Bay because Northwestern Ontario has so little of it. It provides browse for moose, cover for grouse, a banquet for migratory songbirds, and supports a rich ecosystem quite distinct from the Boreal Forest that predominates just a short distance north.

Officials with Greenmantle Forest Inc., and with the MNR, maintain that the tree species composition of the forest in question today is the result of historical logging operations, and as such, natural deciduous forest is not being threatened by their current operations. They use this interpretation of history/ecology to justify substantial replanting with coniferous species. In their opinion, the only reason the forest is predominantly deciduous today is that conifers were previously harvested.

View from north shore of West Arrow Lake.

View from north shore of West Arrow Lake. Coniferous replanting in foreground (dead deciduous twigs are the result of herbicide spraying). Natural deciduous forest in background, with a very few tall white pines.

Has This Area of Forest Been Harvested Before? Or Burned?

Our inquiries have revealed that there was no road access to this area prior to the 1890s.

The Port Arthur, Duluth and Western (“PeeDee”) Railway (later operated by CN) ran in the area until from 1893 to 1938. Large-diameter timber, mostly coniferous,  was cut and transported out (or to local sawmills) by rail during that period. However, this process was selective of the largest trees, and didn’t resemble the clear-cutting process of today. The forest ecology was largely preserved. The removal of some conifers may have favoured deciduous regrowth, but we contend that much of the area in question was then, as it is today, predominantly deciduous forest.

Areas of the forest have also been subject to forest fire – as are most natural forests in the north from time to time. Some of the predominantly deciduous mix that we see now may be a result of forest fires. Blowdown events, another force of nature that has occurred in the area, have similar results.

Deciduous hardwood trees in much of the area today appear to be at least 60 years old. Today’s ecosystem is predominantly deciduous, and replanting with large areas of coniferous monoculture is simply inappropriate.

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11 thoughts on “Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest

  1. I absolutely concur that this is serious..and happening right under the public’s noses…with the blessing of MNR!! It is no concidence that ‘apathetic’ has ‘pathetic’ imbedded within. Something MUST be done immediately, or the bill of goods we are being sold by Greenmantle will destroy all that is beautiful with this precious and sensitive area of the north. We need to be heard. Contact your politicians..the press..your friends and neighbours…and anyone else you think could make a noise above the roar of these clearcutters. Now.

  2. When you consider that 64% of Greenmantle’s total annual allotment is being taken from only 10% of NWO forests, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see that vast areas of highly biodiverse habitat is rapidly being depleted. With the readily available knowledge and science we have at our disposal, It’s difficult to understand how the government of Canada, and Ontario allow this to continue.

    What is also abundantly apparent is the OMNR’s failure to uphold their responsibilities as outlined in the Crown Lands Act, section 2, item (c) wherein it states: “the integration of wildlife and outdoor recreation considerations in the forest management planning process on Crown lands”. It would appear that the OMNR have thrown that obligation out the window. Maybe it’s time to get a legal opinion?

  3. We also need some people with scientific background to examine the forestry practices being carried out in the GLSLFR deciduous forests. Ecologists and biologists in particular.
    I’m wondering how much arsenic and or mercury will be leached into the water from the soil around small lakes when trees are removed. Maybe it’s time to do take some water samples.

  4. I’m familiar with the general area you refer to and while there are indeed a few scattered Great Lakes/St. Lawrence (GLSL) species randomly occurring over the entire landscape, this is merely a “transition zone” and not truly Great Lakes/St. Lawrence. As you move westward towards Quetico, it begins to lean more heavily to Great Lakes/St. Lawrence, but in this area, I’m afraid it’s decidedly boreal forest with a few GLSL species showing up from time to time (usually in the form of White Pine, Red Pine, Yellow Birch, Red Maple and even the occasional Hawthorne (beware LOL)). Simply being deciduous forest DOES NOT make it GLSL. There are specific deciduous species which are GLSL species and some which are decidedly Boreal in nature (white birch, poplar). These two species occur in the heart of GLSL down south, so based on your assertion, we should call those areas Boreal and manage the accordingly.
    Boreal ecosystems, by nature, are renewed through stand replacing events such as fire and blow down (normally fire). This has been proven by science. Since we actively suppress natural fires, harvesting (clear cutting with residual standing timber within the cut boundaries) has become the replacement disturbance.
    Anyhow, after reading over what you’ve had to say, and the subsequent comments posted, it’s clear you and your supporters are working from passion and not sound information.. I gave up four years of my life to study and learn how to protect the environment while simultaneously meeting socio-economic demands (until you begin using plastic to wipe your bum, we’re going to need wood products LOL). I understand how both GLSL and Boreal ecosystems function (yet more to learn) and understand how forestry practices can occur while providing both environmental and social benefits.
    Oh and for the one concerned about water quality, perhaps you should take some time and familiarize yourself with the “Cold Water Lakes Study” as well as the F.O.R.W.A.R.D. project.. Both of these have studied the impacts of forestry on water quality.
    My closing comment is this. Passion is a wonderful thing when it’s focused through good information and a dangerous thing when it lacks that information. If you think you can open your mind enough to hear truth and facts, then let me know and I’ll spare some time to share my education and knowledge with you. For the record, I too think an fresh cut over is an ugly thing but a crop of young trees is a beautiful sight and that’s what comes after the clear cut.
    P.S. there’s the whole carbon sequestration aspect you’ve totally overlooked here

  5. I’ve seen the map above in literature from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Actually, you’ve linked to a similar one in your post at the bottom of the first page on this site. Both maps show the area in question (southwest of Thunder Bay) as being GL-SL forest. But you’re right about the make-up of it … further south, or east of the Great Lakes, there is oak and hemlock and such. So the maps draw in very broad strokes. I think the main beefs of the site authors is forest being harvested in inappropriate places (where it directly impacts many people’s enjoyment of the land), and the replacement of deciduous trees with coniferous stands. Maybe they’ll look into the carbon sequestration issue as well – that would be interesting!

  6. The maps clearly state that the area is GLSLFR. Your comments might imply that the area of concern is a more or less a “watered down” version of the GLSLFR doesn’t make it a less desirable habitat for the many species that live there, nor does it support the practice of destroying what little we have of hardwood forests.

    On the contrary, we should be protecting it more adamantly. Looking at forest through the narrow view of a forester does not represent the opinion nor feelings of the general public.

    I know the area of concern like the back of my hand. My on the ground experience and accumulated knowledge over the years allows me to be more open minded. Accordingly, I’m ever present of how the environment in the area is changing and not for the better.

    One doesn’t need to be scientifically trained to see when something is going wrong. When man interferes with nature on an unprecedented industrial scale and totally alters vast stands of deciduous forest, thus destroying once valuable habitat, even a forester should recognize that can’t be right.

  7. That is absolutely correct, “Concerned citizen” and I share your views. ‘Learning from a Book” is just that…and it is absolutely paramount to SEE it to believe what is happening. No amount of reading or looking at a map will tell the true story.

  8. TreeHerder:
    Your comments below are somewhat correct but not entirely.

    ” I think the main beefs of the site authors is forest being harvested in inappropriate places (where it directly impacts many people’s enjoyment of the land), and the replacement of deciduous trees with coniferous stands.”

    First and foremost is the excessive amount deciduous clear cutting everywhere in the GLSLFR and excessive amount of conifer reforestation being carried out in clear cuts that had been very much predominantly deciduous forests. Our second complaint is destroying forests in direct view of peoples camps and properties that people have enjoyed for many decades. It’s an act of immeasurable belligerence. You have to wonder what’s going through a person’s mind to clear cut surrounding hills right down to within a few meters of the lake shore on lakes where people have camps and properties? Who could be so blind as not to see nor understand that?
    Oh wait…… I know: The forestry industry and the OMNR!

    Regarding the makeup of our portion of the GLSLFR. It would appear that those most bent on declassifying it to being a “transition zone” forest are those most interested in exploiting it. Being that the area of concern is in close proximity to the mills that use the wood and accessible by a very good roads system, it’s easy pickings now and by planting pure stands of conifers, will ensure nearby high quality fiber for the future.

    Biodiversity and animal habitat don’t rank too highly in the eyes of the forestry industry. When you see men and heavy equipment operating during early spring when birds and animals are reproducing, it’s abundantly clear that they couldn’t care less. Crushing ground nesting birds nests and chicks, knocking down trees with nests in them, burying animal dens and killing the young inside are all just in a day’s work. Delightful work indeed.

    It would be great if we could get some real science and biology types involved to explain the necessity for biodiversity and habitat protection to the foresters. It seems that part of their education is sorely lacking.

  9. OK folks. You do understand that biodiversity means not only a mix of forest types, but also of age as well. Different wildlife species require different forest types. Think about this. where do you find Pileated woodpeckers? Old stands of timber. Where do you find rabbits? Young conifer stands. where do moose shelter in the cold of winter? Mid to old age conifer stands. Where to they browse? Young deciduous stands (aspen). And how did they get all this before man began cutting trees? simple. Fire. Big, fast moving, stand destroying, wildlife killing fires. So, would you sooner have a logging operation in view of your favourite camping spot or cottage or would you sooner see a wildfire racing towards you? Could a moose outrun a piece of logging equipment easier than a crowning forest fire? I think so. Aww heck. I know so. I’ve never seen a dead moose as a result of logging but have seen plenty of roasted moose after a fire. Honestly folks, talk to people who know and for the record, biologists and foresters are “kissing cousins”. What a biologist calls “habitat” a forester calls “forest cover” and virtually every managed forest has a forester and biologist working together on it’s management. So go talk to them both..

  10. A fire happens every so often depending on conditions. The fire comes, it rages and burns all that’s in it’s path leaving plenty of nutrition for regrowth then it gone, done, not to be seen again in the area likely for hundreds of years. Thereafter, it’s peace and quiet. Within mere months, there are saplings growing. I recall the Ham Lake fire that occurred in May of 2007. By October, there were saplings four to five feet tall and lots of them.

    From my experience, wood harvesting has been going on in the immediate vicinity of Sandstone, Iron Range, Prelate and Fortune lakes for many, many years. Forestry is like a persistent disease. In many cases, as in the above mentioned area, it destroys forests rich in biodiversity and leaves comparatively sterile green coniferous deserts behind.

    Foresters like to claim that they’re resetting the forest to a species balance similar to what the forest was 100 to 150 years ago, which is highly doubtful and egregiously wrong. There’s one reason only for destroying the deciduous forests and replacing them with conifers. Quality of fiber and harvesting turn around time.

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