County's forestry plan led to increased trail usage, harvest profit
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Forestry maintenance continues to be a big part of life in Huron County, especially over the past 14 months as Huron County forests saw an increase in usage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Forestry Conservation Officer Dave Pullen says 2020 proved to be a unique year for his department, but ultimately one that saw them end up ahead of the curve when it came to outdoor recreational activity during the pandemic.
One of the stand-out achievements of the last year, Pullen said in an interview with The Citizen, was the early decision to keep the Huron County forests and trails open as the pandemic first took hold. After consulting with some of his colleagues, Pullen said, the county made the decision to keep the county forest and trail system open, thinking that people would need to be physical and outdoors more than ever if the pandemic were to wear on.
The pandemic has indeed worn on and the forests and trails have seen more use than ever as a result. Pullen said it’s been great to see usage on the rise and more people connecting to their communities and the nature around them in Huron County.
Once the term “physical distancing” worked its way into the lexicon, Pullen said, it was his thinking that if people couldn’t maintain two metres of distance in hundreds of acres of Huron County forest, then it wasn’t possible anywhere. He rushed to have signs prepared encouraging people to respect the physical space of others and to adhere to public health best practices along the trails and it proved to be the right decision.
He said users were respectful along the trails and that increased usage didn’t translate into risky behaviour or interactions, which was yet another positive.
As the county’s forest conservation officer, Pullen said it was reassuring for him to see residents reconnect with the nature around them.
As far as the Huron County forestry system is concerned, Pullen says it is also in a healthy position. His department has been working to sustainably harvest wood from the forests in order to keep the locations healthy for years to come. In addition, Pullen said the county is nearing completion of harvesting all of its ash trees, losing many to the Emerald Ash Borer, but salvaging the timber while it was still useful.
That harvesting has been a boon for the department, as money made through the timber sales have been funnelled back into the department for the good of the forestry system. In fact, Pullen said he and the department experimented in creating its own live-edge decorative wood to be sold and it turned $1,500 worth of timber into $10,000 of lumber.
That was accomplished on-site with a portable sawmill that was designed and originally manufactured in Howick.
In the last year, Pullen also said that significant work has been done to rehabilitate the county trail near the Nine Mile River last fall. Despite the challenging topography and severe trail damage, over 400 tonnes of stone were moved in, four culvert crossings were installed and 500 metres of trail damage was repaired.
In addition, 11,000 board feet (BF) of ash was salvaged. It was the sale of that salvaged ash that paid for the aggregate for the trail.
Pullen said the continued work of the Huron Clean Water Project is being felt every year in the county’s forests and woodlots. One of the funding streams of the Huron Clean Water Project, administered by Huron County, is an incentive to use good forestry management practices through which the county pays 50 per cent of the cost, up to $1,000. Employing those practices, however, can also ensure a higher yield, so it really can be a win/win situation, he said.
The Huron Clean Water Project, which requires a county investment of several hundred thousand dollars every year, has been a major factor in ensuring the quality of Huron County forests, soil and water over the course of the last 15 years, Pullen said. In addition, he said it provides a solid foundation for the county to leverage future partnerships and funding opportunities.
He also said that Huron County Council has been very supportive of his work over the years, which has gone a long way to ensuring the long-term viability of the forest and trail system.
Pullen’s work isn’t without its challenges, however, with work still to be done.
Tree diseases, pests and the need for biodiversity top his list of challenges for the coming years. He also said that loss of tree nursery capacity and tree seed sourcing has also been a challenge, as is climate change and the need for assisted migration.
He says he has also worried about rising values for agricultural land, speculation and the loss of the stewardship ethic.
There are some bright spots, however, like the federal government’s commitment to planting two billion trees and market rewards for sustainable production.
And while it is a very small aspect of his work within the county, Pullen does still have some ongoing incidents with the forestry conservation bylaw. Three cases from 2019, for example, are still in progress and have been delayed significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He issued two stop-work orders in 2020 and has issued three this year as of the end of March.
In 2020, Pullen says his department received 130 notices of intents (NOIs) for commercial timber harvests. He has also seen an increase from 30 per cent to 36 per cent of woodland owners using independent professional forestry advice. This is something Pullen has been advocating for a number of years, saying it will help woodland owners realize excellent profits for their timber.
Timber sales for the county forests in 2020 topped $55,000 and the department also brought in over $18,000 in NOI fees and third-party recoveries.