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After The Ice Storm

By Jean-Claude Havard

The ice storm that brought Montreal and much of Eastern Canada to a stand-still in January 1998 did more than simply knock down major utility lines. It also stripped mil-lions of trees of their branches, threatening their ability to survive, and disrupted the forest-based economy in one of Canada’s major forest provinces. While initial efforts focused on dealing with emergency situations, such as re-establishing power and communications or providing much needed firewood—with many forest companies agreeing to donate wood from their log yards— it soon became obvious that the storm would have a serious impact on the forest resource and manu-facturers of forest products, partic-ularly lumber, pulp and other prod-ucts like maple syrup. The provincial government moved quickly to take stock of the damage. In January and February 1998, the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources (QMNR) used two airplanes and a heli-copter to carry out a preliminary assessment of the damage and draw up a map showing dam-age levels in the various areas. By late January 1998, the QMNR had posted its “Prudence et Patience” document on the Internet to advise woodlot own-ers on damage evaluation and mitigation strategies. A major objective was to avoid over-reactions, such as systematic clearcutting, and to encourage owners to move slowly and take action only after a proper analy-sis of their situation. On January 28, a forum organized by the Ordre des ingénieurs forestiers du Québec (the Quebec Order of Forest Engineers) brought together all government and professional stakeholders to assess the situa- tion, exchange information, and provide a basis for concerted action. By the end of May, the ministry had performed a second inventory, on the ground, to refine the data obtained from the air, and detailed results were available to forest owners and managers. In a strip running from the Outaouais region (just north of Ottawa) to the Maine border in southeastern Quebec, 1.8 million hectares of Quebec’s forest were damaged, with at least 35 per cent of that area considered “severely” or “very severely” damaged. The total volume of trees affected by the ice storm in the province was estimated at over 57.2 million cubic metres, mostly hardwoods like sugar maple (13.6 million cubic metres), red maple (10.6 mil-lion cubic metres), yellow birch and aspen. Softwood species usu-ally fared better thanks to their conical shape, but red pine plan-tations suffered major damage. Privately-owned stands made up 80 per cent of the damaged forest, with an estimated 30,000 woodlot owners affected by the storm. Between February and June 1998, QMNR staff developed additional information to help forest owners assess damages and make rational decisions aimed at maximizing revenue from the necessary harvesting operations and maintaining the long term potential of the forest as much as possible. This infor-mation was posted on the Internet and communicated through the ministry’s regional officers. The Ordre des ingénieurs forestiers also played a significant role in providing technical information and train-ing its members to deal with a delicate decision process. Additional assistance was pro-vided by the Canadian Forest Service, Laval University, the Forest Engineering Research 

 

ice_1.jpg (9371 bytes) ice_2.jpg (9762 bytes)
The ice storm that hit Quebec and parts of eastern Ontario in early 1998 left behind a legacy of damage which woodlot owners and forest companies are still working to manage. In Quebec, the impact varies from very serious damage to a young mixed stand (top photo) to moderate damage to maple trees (top right). The Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources estimates that 1.8 million hectares of forest were damaged. The Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources moved quickly to assess the damage from the devastating ice storm of 1998 and has recently announced $43 million in programs to assist affected woodlot owners.



Institute of Canada (FERIC) and Forintek Canada Corp., among others. Another objective pursued by QMNR through its Prudence et Patience message was to minimize market disruption by spreading out the extra log supply as much as possible. QMNR staff worked in very close collaboration with the Syndicats des producteurs de bois (woodlot owner asso-ciations) to develop strategies for market-ing the volumes available as a result of the ice storm. According to Robert Deffrasnes, region-al director for QMNR in the Laurentides region, there has been no real problem with good quality hardwood sawlogs and peeler logs. “Demand from the Quebec value added sector has been pretty strong lately,” he says, “and selling the better logs, like maple, was relatively easy. But a short-term oversupply situation has developed for the lower quality logs, which typically go to pulp mills.” In the long term however, Deffrasnes expects reductions in the vol-umes available. For Domtar, the major woodland owner and forest products operator in the region, close collaboration with QMNR staff and other stakeholders was essential through-out the crisis. “Within days, we supported the firewood collection effort,” recalls Serge Gendron, Domtar’s manager of forestry and woodlands operations in the Eastern Townships region. “And we started evalu-ating the damage. We made use of the min-istry’s excellent map and additional satel-lite photographs commissioned by Domtar to supplement observations on the ground and target the worst affected areas.”

Domtar normally practises selective har-vesting in its Eastern Townships hardwood forest, but exceptional circumstances call for exceptional measures, and the compa-ny had to resort to partial harvesting in a few very specific stands to salvage badly damaged trees and encourage growth of the remaining stands. Partial harvesting was, in any case, limited to 30 to 35 per cent of the existing volume on the sites concerned. Limited harvesting operations had a rip-ple effect on Domtar mills. “Logging oper-ations had to be interrupted until spring to ensure the safety of the crews, and for a while it was hard getting enough logs for our lumber and pulp operations,” adds Gendron. “We were forced to bring wood over from Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. But by that July, we had all the necessary permits to undertake salvage cut-ting. Paperwork was facilitated, and all the government agencies or other organizations involved proved most helpful.” Domtar expects to complete salvage operations this year, as natural regeneration has been quite vigorous, and further drastic interventions might be counter-productive. Domtar’s forest management plans are being revised to deal with other stands through appropriate silvicultural treatments. Gendron adds that they have undertaken a complete inventory of the forest resource and this will now be done on a permanent basis rather than every 10 years.

Last June, Jacques Brassard, Quebec Minister of Natural Resources, announced three programs totalling $43 million to help woodlot owners affected by the ice storm. The programs will assist owners in making the right management decisions and in undertaking operations which will bring their lots back into production in the most efficient manner. Jacques Tremblay of QMNR’s programs department explains that the first of these programs is designed for maple syrup pro-ducers and farmers who own at least four hectares in one piece. The second program aims at woodlot owners who derive addi-tional income from their lot, and the third program is for owners who derive most of their income from their woodlot. They exclude farmers with net incomes exceed-ing $300,000 after tax, and companies with 100 full-time employees or more. Registration for participation in the pro- grams is now closed, and 7,300 individ-ual or corporate owners—of the 30,000 nominally eligible—have signed up, rep-resenting a major percentage of the forest area affected by the ice storm. “To ensure effective delivery of the pro-grams, we are working through six region-al agencies,” says Tremblay. “These agen-cies have been set up specifically for this purpose and they represent major forest industry stakeholders, like QMNR, wood-lot owner associations and forestry units, the lumber and pulp industry and region-al county municipalities.

They operate as a coordination and decision centre on the optimum way to deliver the programs in their respective region.” QMNR’s regional director for the Estrie region, Lionel Godbout, says half of his region’s 10,000 woodlot owners, which includes Domtar, have been identified as wood producers. “The organizations mak-ing up our agency don’t necessarily have converging interests,” he says. “But they all support our goals, which are to help woodlot owners harvest what must be har-vested now, and carry out whatever for-est management operations are needed to repair and rebuild forest potential. The program covers the costs of professional foresters accredited by the agency, who visit the woodlots, analyze them and rec-ommend action plans.” For the sake of efficiency, this is done independently of the forest management plans demanded by QMNR of the larger forest landowners (over 800 hectares). These plans come up for renewal every five or 10 years, and they will be modified as they are renewed. Godbout explains that the pro-gram also contributes up to $275 per hectare towards the cost of necessary salvage or thinning operations. A year and a half after the event, gov-ernment and industry officials sound guard-edly optimistic. The 1998 ice storm was and remains a major disaster, especially for those owners who had managed their woodlot as a capital investment for their retirement. Some woodlot owners lost it all, and they do not know yet whether they will ever receive any compensation. Committees have been appointed to analyze the mechanisms in place to deal with emergency situations like this one, and make recommendations to correct inadequacies. Nobody knows exactly what effect the ice storm will have on the log supply in 10 or 15 years, but there will be a price to pay. By the same token, how-ever, nobody doubts that the Prudence et Patience approach has paid off. On many sites, vigorous natural recovery has been observed, and forest management activi-ties currently underway will accelerate the healing process.  More information on the January 1998 ice storm, its effects on Quebec forests and remedial activities is avail-able on the web sites of the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources (www.mrn.gouv.qc.ca/ verglas.asp) or the Ordre des ingénieurs forestiers du Québec (www.oifq.com/verglas.html).


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