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Adding biodiversity and capturing carbon at UBC’s forest in Maple Ridge

New research project underway at Malcolm Knapp Research Forest
Dr. Suzanne Simard of Nelson, a professor of forest ecology at UBC, is working on a new project in the Malcolm Knapp Research Forest in Maple Ridge. (Bill Metcalfe/Black Press)

New work is happening at the UBC Research Forest in Maple Ridge that could lead to healthier forests that take more carbon out of the atmosphere, say researchers.

UBC’s renowned forestry experts Dr. Suzanne Simard and Dr. Dominik Roeser are leading field-based experiments at the Malcolm Knapp Research Forest.

The wilderness there is much loved by locals who access the network of marked hiking trails, and they may see some tree cutting there that raises concerns. But it’s all in the name of science and a healthier environment, according to Simard.

“This is actually enhancing the health of the forest, it’s not exploiting the forest,” Simard told The News.

The professor gained acclaim and some fame for her book Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. In it, she describes findings that trees have complex ways of distributing nutrients and supporting each other, and that forests behave as a single organism.

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With the new project in Maple Ridge, she’s looking at silviculture practices by the B.C. lumber industry in the 1960s and 1970s, and how those 60-year-old forests could now be much improved.

“We have a lot of planted forests on the West Coast, and the intention was future logging, ignoring that they needed a healthy ecosystem to produce a healthy forest,” Simard explained.

The view back then was to grow and harvest stands of Douglas Fir, like a Saskatchewan farmer might raise fields of wheat.

The result is plantations that are not as biodiverse, nor as productive as they should be, said Simard. The trials will address these single-species forests, and how to restore biodiversity.

The lack of diversity leads to forests that could be doing more to store carbon, and thereby fight climate change. The estimate is that a healthier forest could be 25 per cent more efficient as a carbon sink, she said.

According to UBC’s project description the Kantelberg Trials in Maple Ridge will explore sustainable forest management practises. The trials will focus on selective logging and cutting-edge equipment to address biodiversity and carbon deficits in industrialized conifer plantations, particularly in coastal Douglas-fir forests. The project involves transitioning monoculture stands to healthier forests, with greater species diversity, and testing various retention levels and harvesting techniques.

Their work will preserve the large trees – this work is led in part by the Mother Tree author – while revitalizing understory plant communities. It will use innovative equipment to minimize forest floor disturbance.

Roeser has more than two decades of experience in forest research and innovation, and has been working with industry to support the emerging bio-economy both in Europe and in Canada.

This initiative aims to set new standards for sustainable forestry practices, addressing the challenges faced by the forest sector in B.C.

There is a market for logs removed from the forest, and carbon stocks also have financial value.

“At the end of the day, it’s very economically viable to do this kind of restoration,” said Simard.

She said the work at Malcolm Knapp is leading-edge forestry research.

“I’m really excited – I think it’s really important.”

The Malcolm Knapp Research Forest invites public engagement, offering a tour titled “From No Growth to Old Growth” to showcase the future of sustainable forest management.

Led by forestry experts, this tour provides an opportunity for participants to learn about the techniques employed and the ecological significance of the trials, emphasizing collaboration and ecological stewardship in shaping the future of forestry.

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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