Old Growth Forests

"Globally, old growth forests are at the heart of many concerns about the maintenance of ecological processes, the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable development, and climate change, primarily because human activities tend to simplify things."               Old Growth Policy for Ontario’s Crown Forests. Version 1.0 February 2003 MNR Forest Policy Series, page 1, Introduction.
Old growth forest ecosystems are made up of old trees, large trees, have multiple canopy layers and dead standing trees (snags). They contain accumulations of woody material on the forest floor, up-turned stumps, root and soil mounds, and they provide unique wildlife habitat. They are complex in their stand structure, and their ecosystem functions are different from earlier stages of forest development. To scientists, old growth forests are a living laboratory – important as benchmark sites, to study biodiversity, and ecological functioning. Studies in old growth identify these forests as preferred habitat for many species of birds, wildlife and plants. Healthy old growth forests filters water, purifies air, and stores significant amounts of carbon and plant nutrients. We are just beginning to appreciate old growth forest ecosystems for the promise they hold as storehouses of ‘neutraceuticals’ – medicines and foods that contribute to human health and well-being. Old growth provides us with unparalleled wilderness experiences, and enhances our social, cultural, and spiritual life. 
Although much attention has been focused on old growth red and white pine, all major tree species in a variety of forest eco-sites can achieve old growth conditions. Initial work suggests that old growth characteristics first manifest themselves between about 70 years for species such as balsam fir, to 180 years for species such as hemlock.
(State of the Forest Report, 2001  Chapter 1.1.5 )

Public Concerns related to Old Growth
  • Only 1% of old growth forests remain on the landscape.
  • Approximately 95% of old growth is in stands of less that 200 hectares in size.
  • Over harvesting of old growth white and red pine, and subsequent replacement by birch, pine and poplar.
  • Lack of policy to protect remaining OGF on 88% of the forested landbase that is not in parks.
  • Loss of wildlife habitat. Wildlife that are dependent on old growth forests include woodland caribou, elk, pine marten, wood duck, warblers, and blue-spotted salamanders. 
  • In some areas logging of old growth has been accelerated.
How much is left in Ontario? Where is it? 

The largest concentration of ‘Old Growth’ Red and White Pine forests are in Temagami. Other stands – and other old growth forest types ("units") are scattered in remote areas across the province. To find out how much old growth is in your local forest unit, where it is and if it will be protected, you may have to do some detective work. Section in the forest management plan provides information on "Historic Forest Conditions". See tables that describe forest units, age classes and harvest prescriptions in your Forest Management Plan. Your local MNR or industry forester can identify old growth stands and will know if, when, and how it will be harvested. Old growth stands may not be identified as an ‘Area of Concern’ in forest management planning, but may be identified on ‘values’ maps.

MNR’s Policies and Guidelines related to Old Growth

The "Forest Management Planning Manual for Ontario’s Crown Forests" indicates that "With regard to old growth forest values, all sites which contain old growth red and white pine communities must be identified on the values maps(s) for the management unit (see FMPM Appendix 2). However, not all of those sites will necessarily be managed for old growth values. An explanation of the reasons why any such sites will not be managed for old growth values must accompany the values map(s) in the supplementary documentation to the forest management plan." (Forest Management Planning manual for Ontario’s Crown Forest , Ministry of Natural Resources 1994, Section 1.4.4 Values Map. )

Under the Class Environmental Assessment Approval for Timber Management (Term and Condition 103) the Ministry of Natural Resources was directed to provide the citizens of Ontario with an old growth conservation strategy that is environmentally sound and complies with the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. In 2003, the MNR completed "Old Growth Forest Definitions for Ontario" and an "Old Growth Policy for Ontario’s Crown Forests".

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