PEI

Forestry consultant says P.E.I. woodlots hit hard by Fiona

Some members of P.E.I.'s forestry industry say Fiona caused so much damage to Island woodlots — it may not be possible to recover. 

Consultant estimates 50% of Island's softwood trees downed by Fiona

Fallen trees are piled near Brookvale, P.E.I. (Jessica Doria-Brown, CBC )

Some members of P.E.I.'s forestry industry say Fiona caused so much damage to Island woodlots — it may not be possible to recover. 

Island forestry consultant Mike Gallant who has 28 years of industry experience estimates 50 per cent of the Island's softwood stock came down last month.

He said that's put a lot of pressure on those in the industry because if it isn't harvested quickly enough, a valuable resource will be left to rot. 

'Total devastation'

"I seen total devastation," said Gallant. "We got a small window to harvest these pieces of wood because after two years, it becomes biomass, which is worthless."

Gallant said over time, all that wood will dry out and become a fire hazard.

He said the association that represents woodlot owners is in meetings with the provincial government on potential support, but nothing has been firmed up yet. 

Woodlot owners can apply for the province's Forestry Enhancement Program, Gallant said, which provides funding to owners looking for financial assistance to manage their woodlands for forest products, recreation as well as forest restoration.

According to the province's website, if an application is approved the program could cover up to 70 per cent of the cost of recommended treatment of a property. 

"You can contact your local, regional forestry technician and they will be glad to help you out. All you have to do is give them a call and people like me will come out and assess the damage and take it from there," he said.

Forestry consultant Mike Gallant estimates that 50 per cent of the province's softwood lumber was felled by Fiona. (Jessica Doria-Brown, CBC )

Gallant said contractors are putting in long hours — and racking up gas and repair bills — trying to clear and harvest woodlots across P.E.I.

"There should be some sort of an incentive for the contractors as well because we are putting up with this mess and it's very difficult," said Gallant. "It slows us down about 25 per cent of our capacity of cutting because we're dealing with a lot of fallen down trees."

He said another concern is the longevity of the industry on the Island. He said it'll take about 40 years for trees to regrow to the height they were before Fiona hit — and having this many trees down at once isn't good for the industry's sustainability. 

"I'm a little worried about my future after what I've seen," said Gallant. 

"I think within a couple of years, there's not gonna be no more industry. Our softwood species is our most important thing for our livelihood. With that gone ... we might as well say we have nothing. We have hardwood. But you can't survive on hardwood."

A section of land owned by Tom Mann, who has 40 acres in area of Riverdale, P.E.I. (Jessica Doria-Brown, CBC)

Gallant says with all this lumber being harvested now, supply will increase, and that could bring prices down — which will also be a hit for woodlot owners. He'd like to see the province offer owners free trees for replanting, as one way to support the recovery of the industry.

"I feel for the land owners," said Gallant. 

"They had trails in these woods, beautiful trails. Now, they're destroyed, and all the wood is on the ground. It breaks people's hearts."

'Mostly a salvage job'

Woodlot owner Tom Mann said it's still too soon to say what will become of his 40 acres. Last year, he invested in a forestry management plan, to determine what would best support the land and nearby rivers, and make a plan for selective harvesting. Now, there's no way to move forward with that plan. 

Tom Mann owns 40 acres of wooded land in Riverdale, P.E.I., and says his plans to optimize the area for the environment, and make an income from select harvesting, are on hold because Fiona left the area so heavily damaged. (Jessica Doria-Brown, CBC )

"It's going to be mostly a salvage job," said Mann. "We're basically talking with harvesters as to where do we go from here? You know, what's best for the forest?"

He said options could include replanting — or leaving the trees as they are, to decompose. Either way, new plans will need to be made for Mann's 25-year investment. 

"Its value has diminished greatly," said Mann. 

"That was one of the reasons for getting the forestry plan, was to possibly make some income from the forest. I'm not sure where that is now."

Officials with the P.E.I. Woodlot Owners Association said work is underway to support the approximately 15,000 private woodlot owners on the Island. The province announced Friday a new task force would be formed in the wake of Fiona's impacts to address the needs of private woodlot owners and the forest industry.

The task force will be made up of representatives of the P.E.I. Forests, Fish and Wildlife Division, the P.E.I. Woodlot Owners Association, L'Nuey, Island Nature Trust, forest contractors, and other local experts. Meetings will begin on November 1.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Doria-Brown

Videojournalist

Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.

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