Atlantic Forestry March 2017

Never again
AFR: I read Megan de Graaf’s Norway spruce article in the January AFR issue with interest. I’ve had a rather long and disappointing association with this tree species, much like that of John MacDougall and Wade Prest.
    Tom Matheson and I were Scott Paper’s crew picking the first “scions” for the plus tree planting program in the late 1970s. We climbed three trees on Gordon MacKay’s woodlot that were truly impressive - 35 years old, 70 feet tall, with about a metre of yearly growth to the tip of their crown. No weevil damage evident.
    During the late 1980s to early 1990s, my planting crews planted thousands of Norway spruce on Scott Paper and private woodlots in Northern Nova Scotia, as well as several thousand on our woodlot in Earltown, Colchester Co. It’s been stated that the Norway spruce will grow out of the early weevil damage, but to what end? The butt log is the most valuable of any tree, and our Norway spruce shows weevil damage from 6-12 feet on trees affected. Add in the porcupine damage throughout, and sawlogs will be hard to find. We have weevil-free trees, but in the minority. I hope this study works out positively, as I will quickly rid myself of all Norway spruce on our land.
    Then what? As private woodlot owners look at harvested land on their properties, the decision of how to invest in their forests’ future looms large. Any such investment requires a look to the past and present to help with a future forecast. My study of this question has led me to question why anyone would plant any fast-growing softwood species as a good investment.
    Softwood prices presently are the same as 15-20 years ago, and I’ve heard they may drop further. Woodlot owners and operators are facing stiff competition from our own Crown lands, as the WestFor consortium tucks into the former Bowater land and has flooded the market and mills with wood. This has dropped prices $10-$20 per tonne in less than a year. And they will continue unabated for the next 10 years. My last tandem load of studwood (shipped Dec. 2016) brought me $193 less than this time last year. Where’s the prosperity in that? I bet my money wrong 40 years ago.
    The future, I believe, is in long-term slow to moderate growth of our long-lived Acadian forest species, such as Red spruce, Eastern hemlock, Yellow birch, and Sugar maple. This will make for a high-value forest and help you realize that soon-to-be-here latest of returns from your woodlot: carbon money. A pipe dream a couple of years ago is now close to reality, as the federal and provincial government is set to impose carbon pricing country wide.
    Lots of particulars to be worked out, but working to create a better natural forest than the low-value man-made one we’ve been producing is a better way to bet your money.
Tom Miller
Green Hill, N.S.