||.057 million ha
||0.57 million ha
||0.29 million ha
Prince Edward Island’s landscape is world famous for its blend of red farm fields, green forests, blue rivers and bays, and gently rolling hills. While agriculture, tourism and several fisheries are mainstays of the local economy, forests do play an important part in the economy environment and way of life in Canada’s small province.
In terms of Canadian forests, Prince Edward Island is unique because some 16,000 small woodlot owners—rather than the provincial government or large industry—own 90% of the Island’s 630,000-acre forest. Woodlots average about 50 acres, yet each one has its own unique history of human influences.
The results of several centuries of poor land use practices are still very evident in Island woodlots today. By the end of the nineteenth century, only 30% of the Island’s was still under forest cover; the remainder had been cleared agriculture. The remaining un-cleared forest also faced huge pressures for building materials, fuel wood and other forest products. Subsequent generations left the land for opportunities in other places and over the next century, the forest reclaimed many abandoned old fields. By 1990, forests once again covered nearly 50% of the Island but this “new” forest was very different from the one encountered by the first European settlers. Therefore, it is safe to say that decisions made by people 50, 100 or even 200 years ago still influence today’s forest management and harvest decisions.
While most of the forest is privately owned, most landowners do not carry out their own harvest or silviculture work. Instead, they rely on small contractors to thin overcrowded stands, plant trees on cut-overs or abandoned agriculture lands, or harvest and sell traditional forest products. Many of these contracting businesses are small, family owned and operated ventures such as the one run by Tony Morrison of Gairloch, Prince Edward Island
Tony Morrison [top] figures that over the
last 20 years he's planted nearly one
million seedlings on private lands across
eastern Prince Edward Island. [Below] His
daughter, Sunny Patch, is joining him in
the family business
In the spring of 1981, Mr. Morrison started planting trees on private and public forestlands in eastern P.E.I. In the early 1980s, many Islanders were just beginning to explore the potential of their woodlands. Planting trees and thinning overcrowded natural stands was something new and exciting to most people, and over the years, more and more Islanders began to get involved in forest management programs. Since that time many things have changed in the Island’s forest sector, but one thing has remained constant over the years—Mr. Morrison is still planting trees and helping landowners to manage their forests.
By himself, Mr. Morrison has planted more than one million trees—a truly remarkable feat. These days he is also the man behind Renewable Energy Systems Inc., a company dedicated to silviculture and stewardship. For him and his crew, this involves planting seedlings and maintaining young stands by removing competition and giving the trees room to grow. The company also works in natural forests thinning overcrowded stands, doing selective harvests and improving the stem quality of slightly older trees by pruning their side branches. Much of this work is cost-shared between government, industry, and landowners who want to manage their forests for a wide range of reasons.
So what does Mr. Morrison see as the major changes over the past twenty years? “Since the early days, the number of trees being planted annually has increased substantially,” he noted. “For instance in 1981 we planted approximately 470,000 trees in eastern PEI but now this figure is usually closer to a million trees per year. This represents a major investment by hundreds of land owners in the future of the Island’s forest sector.”
The increase in tree numbers has resulted in a longer planting season. In the 80s, Mr. Morrison’s planting season only lasted four to six weeks, but today it lasts ten weeks in the spring and another three to six weeks in late summer. His planting crew is a combination of seasoned veterans with years of experience and students who earn their college tuition over the planting season. When planting season ends, the students go back to school and the smaller crew moves into maintenance, pruning and thinning. He noted that, depending on the weather, maintenance, thinning and pruning work can now last well into late fall providing more employment for the people in his community.
Besides the increase in tree numbers and the length of the work season, Mr. Morrison felt that the other big change was the average size of today’s planting sites. When he began, many sites were only four or five acres in size but today, 20–30 acre sites are not uncommon. This increase in harvest size was brought about by world demand for softwood timber and mechanization of the harvest industry in the 1990s.
For Mr. Morrison, the last twenty years have seen a lot of very early mornings on planting sites from one end of the region to the other. It has meant dealing with blackflies and mosquitoes, all kinds of weather, rough terrain, and hundreds of landowners.
But it has also meant getting to where he is now—an independent employer who enjoys what he does—working outside and sometimes thinning and pruning the same trees he planted more than twenty years ago. It has also given him the satisfaction of knowing his work has helped hundreds of Island woodlot owners become better stewards of the land.
Today his daughters often work beside him planting and tending trees for a new generation of Islanders. Mr. Morrison’s one million trees are a feat by themselves, and when combined with the silviculture work that he and his crew have done and his personal commitment to forest stewardship, Tony Morrison is truly someone who has helped to keep Prince Edward Island’s forests green.