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).
Deciduous 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.
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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