Retired engineer Bruce Aikman is seen walking through a section of forest on Shelterwood Farm. With him is his son's dog Ike. Submitted photo.
The Acadian forest, one of eight forest regions of Canada, once covered much of the Maritime Provinces. Three hundred years ago in Nova Scotia, 50% of the forests would have been classified as old growth. Today, less than 1% of the original old growth Acadian Forest remains.
Woodlot owners face vastly different interests competing for the use of these limited forests, from tree harvesting to recreation. How is an owner to know how best to manage their forest? As we shall learn, personal beliefs and priorities can play a large part in deciding what to do and how to act.
The Acadian forest consists generally of 32 different tree species, and can vary in moist soils from mature coniferous stands of predominantly red spruce and eastern hemlock to well drained deciduous forests of sugar maple, red maple, yellow birch, beech and white pine.
Remnants of old growth Acadian forests are still found in designated protected public forest areas, such as parks, wilderness areas and nature reserves, and in isolated pockets in some of the 40,000 private woodlots scattered across Nova Scotia. Here in Cape Breton, much of the old growth Acadian forests on private lands are dominated by sugar maple, red maple and yellow birch.
It can be difficult to place a realistic monetary value on forest resources, nevertheless, we will examine a few possible scenarios and consider the results to be representative only. The actual volume and condition of wood in an acre of forest can vary greatly, but for purposes of comparison, we will assume a stocking density of 80 trees per acre with diameters between 12 to 24 inches [average 16 inches], 35% sugar maple, 25% yellow birch, 20% red maple and 20% others.
Harvesting for Biomass
Harvesting for biomass would be the least valuable use of the resource. If 50% of the trees were harvested once every 50 years at a stumpage rate of $2.00 per ton, the woodlot owner could expect a return of approximately 40 trees x 2.5 tons/tree x $2/ton = $200 per acre single payment or $4 per acre per year averaged over 50 years.
Harvesting for Firewood
The same woodlot could sustain an annual firewood harvest of 1 cord per acre per year indefinitely.
If the woodlot owner received 1/3 of the retail value of the wood [the harvester-retailer gaining the rest], the return would be 1/3 x 1 cord x $250/ cord = $83.33 per acre per year.
Harvesting for lumber
Assuming 25% of the higher grade trees were harvested once every 25 years for lumber, and that the woodlot owner received 1/3 of the value of the kiln dried rough lumber, the return would be in the order of: 20 trees x 200 bd ft/tree x $4.50/bd ft x 1/3 = $6,000 or $240 per acre per year.
Harvesting for Maple Syrup
Harvesting for maple syrup can be done without compromising the woodlot. If 35% of the trees are sugar maple and the tapping average is 1.5 taps per tree, the return under favorable conditions would be approximately: 80 trees x .35 x 1.5 taps x 1 litre syrup/tap x $20/litre = $840 per acre per year.
Selling Carbon Credits
At present, in Nova Scotia, there is no practical way of selling carbon credits from private woodlots except on a voluntary basis to individuals or businesses wanting to claim a zero carbon footprint for their own activities. However, studies done in the state of Maine sug- gest that a 125 year old Acadian Forest is capable of sequestering up to 2 tons of CO2 per acre per year. At the current rate of $20/ton of CO2 there is a potential of $40 per acre per year from carbon credits. The federal government is proposing a carbon tax rate of $50 per ton of CO2 by the year 2022, increasing the potential to $100. per acre per year at that time.
The Real Value of the Acadian Forest
It may be unrealistic to try to assign a monetary value to the forests. Forests sustain life on this planet, including our own, and as such, they are an essential part of the natural environment beyond the limitations of an artificial monetary system. Nevertheless, a study released in 2017 titled “Putting a Value on the Ecosystem Services Provided by Forests in Canada” prepared by TD Bank Group and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, examined the ecological services provided by forests in terms of monetary value.
Considered were a wide range of services , such as carbon storage, carbon sequestration, health benefits, flood control, air filtration, soil formation, recreation [tourism], water filtration etc. for all eight forest regions of Canada. Their conclusion, based on the Long Tusket Lake property in Nova Scotia, was that “the Acadian Forest is found to be one of the more valuable forest types from the natural capital perspective, providing approximately $26,250 in annual benefits per hectare per year.” That is $10,585 per acre per year in natural non-consuming benefits.
What is the value of an acre of Acadian Forest in Cape Breton? Realistically, it can provide benefits ranging from $4 per acre per year to over $10,000 per acre per year. In monetary terms, your personal financial goals and beliefs concerning the ecological benefits of your forest will all contribute to how you value your land.
Bruce Aikman is a retired engineer living in Middle River where he raises Highland Cattle and spends many pleasant hours in his woodlot.