Protecting old trees and old-growth forests
DON CAMERON Don Cameron Registered professional forester
If you were asked how long trees usually live, how would you respond? This, being one of my favourite questions when I am talking with a group of youth, is a bit of a trick question. Like so many answers in the real world, the answer is, “it depends”. Each different tree species has a normal life span which can vary greatly. For example, the most popular indoor Christmas tree species – balsam fir, may only live 40 to 60 years before it rots from the inside and falls in the wind. On the other end of the spectrum are the climax tree species, such as eastern hemlock, red spruce, sugar maple, and yellow birch which may live more than 300 years. You may have wondered, as so many kids have asked, what’s the oldest known tree in Nova Scotia? Up until recently, the oldest known tree in the Maritime Provinces is a red spruce in Fundy National Park of nearly 500 years. Several hemlock trees sampled in Cape Breton are in the 450-year-old range. Although old forests have become quite rare in Nova Scotia, a few extraordinary old trees have managed to survive the periodic disturbances over hundreds of years such as land clearing, forest harvesting, hurricanes, forest fires, urban development, and insect infestation. Some of the older urban trees, such as elms, maples, oaks, or birches may be protected due to their geographic location, such as within a park or cemetery or on municipal land Old trees in woodland settings are often naturally protected by their location, such as within a steep river valley or slope which makes land development and forest harvesting less likely. These sites become more ecologically valuable as neighbouring woodlands are disturbed or cleared. During the summer of 2021, Department of Natural Resources and Renewables staff collected increment core samples from a number of old hemlock trees in the Panuke Lake area in Hants County. One of these trees has become the new “tree superstar” of Nova Scotia. Despite some of the rings being exceptionally thin and hard to see, it was determined by microscope and cross-dating analysis at the Acadian Forest Dendrochronology Lab at Mount Alison University, that this tree is the oldest known tree in Nova Scotia. Although this hemlock stood at an ordinary height of 18 metres and a diameter of 51cm, it was determined to be more than five centuries old. In fact, the tree spanned the period from 1490 to 2021, for a total of 532 years. Since the increment core was taken at breast height, the stillliving tree is deemed to be approximately 550 years old. If you have an interest in old-growth forests, you may be interested in providing your input into the new Nova Scotia Old Growth Forest policy. The Lahey Report for future crown land management recommended that the province adopt ecological forestry, including the improvement of the amount and conservation of old forests. A new old-growth forest policy would strengthen the ecological forestry approach to prioritize the protection of biodiversity and enhancement of old-growth forest ecosystems. The public has been invited to provide input on the proposed policy. The revised draft of the policy includes changes, such as straight-forward statements on the conservation of all old-growth forests on crown land, new definitions of old-growth that better align with the province’s Forest Ecosystem Classification system and are based on the latest research, better accountability reporting, and stronger compensation language. The policy public consultation is open until Dec. 8, 2021, and can be found at the following link: novascotia. ca/old-forest-consultation.