The Forest Science Committee (FSC) is a standing committee of the EOMF and provides science-based advice to the Board of Directors, committees, members and partners of the EOMF, as well as to the public at large. The FSC reviews publications, proposals and other documents from a science-based view, identifies science related projects for the annual work plan, and contributes to the science activities of the Canadian Model Forest Network (CMFN) and its partners. Members of the FSC are volunteers with an interest in forest science issues; they provide a broad spectrum of knowledge and expertise while contributing to the assessment and decision-making process. Periodically the FSC reports its activities to the Board to ensure that the activities are following the directions of the Board and to provide the Board with information in support of EOMF goals and objectives. In addition, the FSC contributes to the web pages of the EOMF, the CMFN and those of other partners in order to disseminate information on forest science issues. What follows is a more detailed description of some of the current activities of the Forest Science Committee.
Exploring a Changing Climate in Eastern Ontario
A key thrust of activity for the Forest Science Committee in recent months has been the development of the discussion paper entitled Is the climate changing in eastern Ontario? Volunteer committee member Bob Stewart, retired Climate Change Science Advisor for Natural Resources Canada, has served as lead author. Climate data from the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa covering the period from 1890 to 2011 are analyzed in terms of 30-year averages to determine if the climate is changing in eastern Ontario. Results indicate that the present climate is quite different from the climate a century ago. From a climate perspective, eastern Ontario is currently warmer and wetter than at any other period over the last 120 years. The observed warming appears to be accelerating, with nine of the 10 warmest years on record occurring since 1991. From a global warming or climate change perspective, although the record is not conclusive, the observed change in temperature and moisture conditions experienced in eastern Ontario over the last century suggests it may be happening.
With the release of the discussion paper, the Forest Science Committee hopes to further stimulate dialogue among EOMF members and partners about their experiences and observations with respect to how the climate may be changing in eastern Ontario – with a view to further exploring what the changes may mean in terms of adaptation and management actions on the ground.
Recognizing/Remunerating Landowners for the Provision of Ecological Goods & Services
What methods can be used to recognize and/or remunerate landowners for contributing to the ecological health of ecosystems? This is topic of growing interest in the ‘sustainability community’ and is being taken up by a variety of groups and organizations. Programs for remunerating landowners for the provision of ecological goods and services (EG&S) are proliferating the world over. Examples of payments for EG&S occur in Costa Rica for water and biodiversity service; in the U.S. in support of soil conservation; and in Australia for habitat protection and soil rehabilitation. Will this issue become topical in eastern Ontario with its strong stewardship values? Can we expect to see demand for programs that better recognize landowners for their role in providing EG&S? If so, the EOMF needs to be positioned to work with landowners, stewardship and conservation groups, and government agencies to further this concept, help define programs and policy, and assist in its implementation.
While EG&S remuneration approaches and programs have been slower to develop in Canada, some examples are beginning to emerge. The most widely-referenced Canadian example of an emerging framework for rewarding farmers for the provision of EG&S is ALUS - Alternative Land Use Services. While still at the stage of early days, emerging assessments point to the potential value of the ALUS approach in enhancing the flow of EG&S to society and in better recognizing and rewarding farmers for the critical role they play as environmental stewards. It is recognized equally that there are a number of existing stewardship programs in Canada that embrace some element of rewarding and/or compensating landowners for providing EG&S. In Ontario, for example, the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program (MFTIP) and the certification of forests both provide direct or indirect compensation for pursuing sustainability goals. More recently, the financial community, through the assurance field, has demonstrated interest in the concept by providing financial protection for ecological services provided.
Discussion amongst FSC members has led to a wider understanding of the issue, particularly in identifying the potential partners in such a venture. The FSC is contributing to the development and delivery of a series of focus group sessions across the EOMF area to bring interested parties to the table for a more detailed discussion of how we can better recognize landowners for their contributions in providing and safeguarding EG&S. What might an EG&S recognition/remuneration program framework look like in the context of eastern Ontario? There is a great opportunity for the FSC to play a role in advancing the thinking in program and policy development circles in so far as innovative and practical approaches to recognizing landowners for providing EG&S are concerned.
Mapping and Risk Analysis for Eastern Ontario's Forested Landscape
This project consists of an investigation of methods for combining risk factors and landscape mapping techniques as a tool to enhance awareness and assist in the management of forests and landscapes across eastern Ontario. This type of tool can be used to highlight the extent to which areas of the landscape are at risk from – or susceptible to – damaging factors in forests. The initial review of methods concentrated on emerald ash borer (EAB) because the issue is topical and because much of the necessary data were readily available. The FSC is interested in building on the Ecological Land Classification (ELC) layer developed through past Species at Risk funding. This geographic information system (GIS) platform is being used for a variety of applications by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and the EOMF has recently conducted a validation analysis that demonstrated that the algorithms used to create the layer were working well. The benefit of this type of GIS platform is that it can be updated when additional data become available.
To illustrate a practical application, the ELC layer was used recently to provide mapping of ash distribution in the EOMF area. Several EAB risk models from other jurisdictions were also investigated for application in the EOMF. The FSC looked at several options including a process used in Ohio that combined an EAB ‘Flight Model’ and an ‘Insect Ride Model.’ The EAB Flight Model calculates the risk of spread for any area, based on the basal area of ash within the cell and an estimate of EAB abundance based on a ‘years since infestation’ parameter. The model assumes EAB will kill all ash trees in a cell 10 years after the initial detectable infestation. The Insect Ride Model weights the road network, wood products, population density, and campground information in a GIS format and combines to yield a map of EAB risk showing the probability of colonization. There are possibilities to expand the risk analysis to include economic risk/cost, based on survey data to focus the model on urban communities. Here, however, the constraint is an almost complete lack of data.
The FSC will continue to investigate opportunities to use the ELC layer to model risk with interested partners. Tools developed under this project are expected to be valuable in landscape level planning and management of natural ecosystems.
Carbon Credits for Landowners and Communities
With climate change occupying a prominent space on the current political stage, the potential for forest owners to benefit from emerging carbon markets has become top of mind for many. As viable carbon markets become established, forest owners may have an opportunity to earn additional income while helping to diminish the adverse effects of climate change through the sequestering of carbon by growing long-lived woody species. Benefits accrue not only to the individual, but the wider community through reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is thought to be a driving factor in global climate change.
In developing carbon credit schemes, credits are received by the forest owner in exchange for establishing tree cover or managing existing forests for carbon; credits are then sold in the open market. The credits are usually based on tree plantings, but other systems including enhancement of soil organic matter, perennial grass plantings and underground carbon traps (including large bodies of water) are being studied by policymakers and governments. The individual forest owner typically deals with an ‘integrator,’ a larger organization, which, in turn, markets large amounts of carbon (50,000+ tonnes) and functions as a cooperative or marketing board. To date, most of the carbon offset projects in Canada have focused on public or corporate-held forests; approaches to carbon crediting in the private land context have received less attention. In recent months the EOMF has been approached by several organizations and firms interested in our serving as a potential pilot site for looking at carbon offset credits on private lands. We continue to evaluate these opportunities under the watchful guidance of the Forest Science Committee.
The immediate question arises: What are the opportunities for eastern Ontario woodlot owners and landowners to benefit, and what is our role? Should relevant carbon markets arise, there will be opportunity for landowners to benefit; there is a great deal of Class 3, 4 and 5 land not currently producing marketable food crops in our region. The role of the EOMF could be as a pilot area for testing viable approaches, and potentially acting as the ‘integrator’ or ‘accumulator’ for landowners in the EOMF area, in much the same fashion as we do now in the context of the Forest Certification Program. The Mohawk community of Akwesasne could also be included as a ‘landowner’ to avoid institutional difficulties associated with participation in current programs being developed and delivered by governments.
There are clearly many issues to be addressed including the schedule of payments to landowners; the security of the ‘crop’ (which includes the possibility of human or natural disturbances); alienation of land for long periods and the transfer of ownership. These and other issues will likely be resolved on a larger scale than that with which the EOMF deals; nevertheless, the great strength the EOMF offers is its ability to bring people together to articulate their views – providing an important vehicle for influencing policy directions. The FSC is currently assembling information on the subject, and communicating with interested parties.
Naturalized Knowledge Systems
People who live close to the natural world have a different perspective on natural systems than that provided to policymakers from deductive science; can these approaches be reconciled? This question continues to capture the interest and imagination of the FSC.
The EOMF provides an excellent example of the successful extension and practical application of Naturalized Knowledge Systems (NKS) thinking to a broad range of communities – embracing the principles of respect, equity and empowerment as fundamental to the governance of the organization. The opportunity to establish a model forest in eastern Ontario in 1991 highlighted a key gap in knowledge and experience. A proven process was needed to establish a set of practices for working effectively together as communities. The Mohawk community of Akwesasne helped to bridge this gap. Naturalized Knowledge Systems described the way in which the community lived, worked and celebrated together in keeping with the Great Way of Peace of the Haudenosaunee people. Recognizing that people both within and outside of their community could share the common goal of sustaining ‘forests for seven generations,’ the Mohawk people of Akwesasne willing shared their knowledge and experience and supported the efforts of others to adopt these practices and ways of thinking, balancing the fundamental principles of respect, equity and empowerment. Inspired leadership came from elders, chiefs and key community members within Akwesasne, and the EOMF founding chair (who was instrumental in guiding efforts and encouraging cooperation within and between other communities throughout the region). This compelling interest to work together was facilitated by having an effective descriptive framework of key techniques and processes for building community connections. NKS thinking provided a strong sense of how things needed to be done and instilled confidence that obstacles could be overcome.
At the outset, respect was somewhat limited because communities were not familiar with each other; however, empowerment was significant and grew rapidly as people began to see the potential of what could be achieved by working together and committed themselves to making it work. The EOMF developed steadily as an organization capable of building effective partnerships and bridging long-standing conflicts, such as existed between government, industry and First Nations. The organization evolved to the point where it had significant capacity to positively respond to unforeseen and serious challenges – among these the closure of a major provincial tree nursery in the mid 90s and the 1998 Ice Storm which caused substantial damage to the forests of the region. In both situations the EOMF focused efforts of the partnership and the communities – transforming the nursery into a thriving enterprise providing high-quality planting stock for the region and ensuring that forest recovery efforts following the Ice Storm were coordinated and effective.
Naturalized Knowledge Systems thinking provides an important framework to analyze, act, and subsequently evaluate the results of partnership efforts. It can be scaled to reflect the nature, size and experience of the participating individuals and organizations and their interests. Adopting the NKS framework followed three important stages: 1) awareness of the concepts; 2) initial application; and, 3) persistence or ‘staying the course’ (especially important when an initial partnership effort may not have been completely successful). Over time, the framework became better understood, and eventually fully embedded and accepted as the preferred way of working together. The rapid development of the EOMF was made possible by the widespread and sincere adoption of NKS thinking by key participants. In the few cases where failures were experienced, NKS thinking provided a valuable framework for constructively evaluating what had occurred. The Forest Science Committee, as a champion of NKS thinking, continues to further its application and uptake by those working on forest science related issues.