Continuous Cropping

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Do you think the world would be a better place if we all knew a little more and believed a little less?

Crop rotation has been around for hundreds of years and if we turn out attention to forestry we will see that in the Boreal Forest  Mother Nature provides her own kind of  crop rotation.  It is a circular system so we will enter the system where a mature conifer forest is on fire and burning.  After the fire there are almost always a large number of scorched trees still standing, but dead.  In the next several years the standing trees will start to fall over, concurrently leafed plants and shrubs will begin to grow; some will produce berries and others will produce tender shoots for the ungulates, moose, deer, and elk to feed upon.  As time goes by the standing trees start to fall over providing  great  protection for the ungulates, moose, deer, and elk.  The fallen trees with their dead little stiff branches make life very difficult for predator wolves who are in pursuit of an ungulate.

As time goes by a mixed hardwood forest will emerge, not always,  but most often. Later as the hardwoods start to mature the conifers, pine, spruce, fir and others start to grow until finally  a young conifer forest emerges.  It thrives upon the rich soil that the broad leaf trees provided with  their some 80 years more or less of shedding leaves that composted into rich soil.  Eventually the circle is back to where a mature conifer forest is on fire or being harvested for logs.  This is the natural process, it takes approximately 200 years or more.

Modern forestry has a problem.  After completing a clear cut harvest, meaning that virtually nothing has been left standing almost immediately conifer seedlings are planted. For the uninformed this is considered to be good forestry practice; good for the seedlings, for the wildlife for the land, really?

In the 1960s and 70s a study called the Canada Land Inventory was carried out. It was really quite an exercise where teams of scientists examined the land; all that was on it, a bit under it and all of the mammals, birds and fishes.  In the British Columbia section there was a footnote cautioning the scientists about the good quality of top soil beneath hardwood vegetation and the poor acidic quality   of  the topsoil beneath the mature conifer stands.  Today’s “best forestry practice” in British Columbia ignores natures crop rotation as described above and simply indulges in continuous cropping without the benefit of fertilization.  A better way may be to log off mature aspen and plant conifers and allow the clear cuts to regenerate into a hardwood forest naturally.

The forestry leadership are lucky because the conifer trees in central BC take about 100  to 150 years to reach a good quality commercial size. These planning mistakes will show in the second and third successive crops with slower growing poorer quality trees, by that time all of the planners will have joined “the dearly departed”.

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