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Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group: A Glimpse into the Exciting World of Watersheds on Prince Edward Island

The Acadian Forest

What is the Acadian Forest?

The Acadian Forest, one of eight forest regions in Canada, covers most of the Maritime Provinces, northern New England and extends into Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula.  Although classified as a distinct region, it is actually a combination of the Northern Hardwood and Boreal forests; the Acadian Forest contains elements of both, thus creating a unique blend of hardwood and softwood trees found nowhere else on earth (Simpson, 2008).

Canada's Forest Regions (NRCan, 2012)

Canada’s Forest Regions (NRCan, 2012)

The Acadian Forest began to develop when the glaciers, which covered much of North America, began to retreat over 10,000 years ago. As the ice melted, species of plants and animals began migrating northward, including spruce and birch. Because our Maritime climate still maintains a moderately cold winter, and this allows our area to maintain a wide variety of trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

Why is it so special?

The Acadian forest is the Lungs of the Maritimes. Why? Because every day the forest helps filter the carbon dioxide produced from our cars, smoke stacks, and breath into the precious oxygen we need to survive. And don’t forget about the dozens and dozens of species that inhabit the Acadian Forest!

What does the Acadian Forest look like?

Layers of a Forest

Layers of a Forest

The Acadian forest is home to 32 native tree species, and range from very young saplings to old mature trees. Each tree at any age plays a vital role in this forest, and all help to keep the woodland healthy and strong. Within a typically healthy forest are mature trees, dead/dying trees, seedlings and saplings.

Dead and dying trees, although not always pleasing to the eye, are

Deadwood (photo: Cross River Media)

Deadwood (photo: Cross River Media)

very important for nesting and shelter for hundreds of species. Birds, mammals, insects and amphibians all utilize these trees for various reasons; some can only live in dead and dying trees! Aside

from wildlife, the deadwood on the ground becomes a perfect nursery for new growth by lifting the seeds off the ground to provide a little more light and freedom from competition.

Sapling (photo: CNR)

Sapling (photo: CNR)

Seedlings and saplings are young trees in the forest that are the ‘next generation’ of mature trees (should they be allowed to flourish!). The majority of these never reach maturity though, as they are yummy edibles for wildlife or they don’t get enough light to grow. Those that do survive are those that are strong and adapted to the environment, and make up our forest.

Mature trees are those majestic large trees we ogle and admire when we peer into a forest, as they dominate the forest canopy and provide the seeds that make the seedling. Eventually, all trees must

Mature Trees (photo: Jamie Simpson)

Mature Trees (photo: Jamie Simpson)

perish, and those that fall to the floor eventually become the healthy soil that will help grow the next generations.

A mature Acadian forest stand is not stagnant; on the contrary, there are always small disturbances (such as forest fires, windstorms, or insect infestations) that kill trees and create gaps in the canopy. These small areas let in a higher amount of light than normal, and stimulate seedlings to grow.

The Acadian Forest began to develop when the glaciers, which covered much of North America, began to retreat over 10,000 years ago. As the ice melted, species of plants and animals began migrating northward, including spruce and birch. Because our Maritime climate still maintains a moderately cold winter, and this allows our area to maintain a wide variety of trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

How has it changed over the years?

Forest Cover, 1700's (photo Province of Prince Edward Island)

Forest Cover, 1700’s (photo: Province of Prince Edward Island)

In the early 1700’s, when European settlers came to the area, 98% of the Island was covered in forests, with wetlands, ponds, streams/rivers and dunes making up the other 2%. Large mature maples, birches, beech and oaks were seen in abundance, and early settlers often wrote of the numbers and sheer size of the trees they came across.

“In 1890, naturalist Francis Bain described sugar maple and yellow birch canopies 60 feet above the ground, and yellow birch diameters of up to 6 feet” (Island Magazine, no date).

The Acadian forest has been dramatically altered over the years, through clear-cutting, logging and tree plantations. Although most species of this forest region still exist (varies from province to province, region to region), the trees are much younger and smaller than they were in the past. Additionally, there if often fewer tree species in forest stands (lower biodiversity).

Much of the island’s trees were cleared for homes and farmland by the 1800’s, and even areas that remained in forest

Forest Cover, 1990 (photo: Province of Prince Edward Island)

Forest Cover, 1990 (photo: Province of Prince Edward Island)

cover were heavily altered.  Related to the changes in forestry, several animals were lost on PEI, including the passenger pigeon (PEI’s only extinct forest animal), black bear and caribou. Strange to think these animals once roamed the woods of Prince Edward Island!

By 1900, only 30% of the Island was under forest cover; large scale agricultural operations and harvest pressures led to

a massive decline of forest health. As people began to trickle off island in search of ‘greener pastures’, the trees began to reclaim old farmland and by 1990, 48% of the Island was once again classified as forest.  It should be noted, however, that this forest was much different than that of the stands discovered by the Europeans.  Instead of massive old-growth mature trees, shade tolerant under the forest canopy, our forests are now much younger, with smaller diameter trees and dominated by red maple, poplar and fir. Sadly, old fields are often covered in a single species, such as white spruce or fir.

The story does not have a happy ending at this point, as by the end of the 1990’s, the forests were once again in decline due to conversion to new agricultural products such as blueberries or soybean.

 Click here to learn about the different types of trees that make up the Acadian Forest!

 

REFERENCES

Acadian Forest. (2009). Ecology. Retrieved from http://acadianforest.ca/discover/ecology/

Province of Prince Edward Island. (2012). Prince Edward Island’s Forests. Retrieved from http://www.gov.pe.ca/forestry/foresthistory

Simpson, J. (2008). Restoring the Acadian Forest: A Guide to Forest Stewardship for Woodlot Owners in the Maritimes. Restelluris.

University of Prince Edward Island. (no date). Island Magazine. Retrieved from http://vre2.upei.ca/islandmagazine/fedora/repository/vre%3Aislemag-batch2-292/OBJ

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