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Research group targets Peterborough County area for old-growth forests

Old growth forests being mapped in Peterborough area
While old growth forests are well-known in areas such as British Columbia, in Ontario not so much. But a team is trying to change that and are focusing on the Peterborough area.

A research group is focusing on the Peterborough area as it maps old-growth forests in Ontario.

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Ancient Forest Exploration and Research (AFER) is trying to expand the knowledge of old-growth forests. The Peterborough project is backed by a $75,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation which will support the initiative until February 2022.

“An old-growth forest is a forest that has ideally been untouched for over 140 years,” said Carling Dewar, a forest ecologist with AFER.

Dewar and her team of three at AFER, headed by chief scientist Dr. Peter Quinby, are starting with the trees in Peterborough County to eventually conserve them.

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According to the most recent reports by Forest Resource Inventory (2003), the northern area of Peterborough County contains 72 per cent of old-growth forest in Ontario.

But, 26,000 hectares of the forests are unprotected, AFER says — the equivalent to 21,320 football fields.

“We can’t go everywhere,” said Dewar. “That’s why we really rely on citizen scientists to help us out.”

AFER staff and volunteers venture out in Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park in Duoro to study and document trees.
AFER staff and volunteers venture out in Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park in Duoro to study and document trees. Noor Ibrahim/Special to Global News Peterborough

The team, joined by volunteers, is travelling around the County, picking random plots in parks or forests, to measure and log data about the trees’ age and vegetation. The randomness of the plot helps give an accurate snapshot of the entire park or forest.

“We look for a forest that has all different ages,” said Dewar. “Young, old, alive, dead.”

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On Thursday, the team visited Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park, just two kilometres east of Peterborough. On Thursday morning, two team members and three volunteers visited the park to study the trees there.

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“Once we’ve mapped them out, we’ll write reports on them, educate people about them, and then we’ll take those (reports) to any policymakers, and hopefully stop logging of really nice forests, or just get policies changed so they are protected,” said Dewar.

The AFER team discovered a 250-year-old sugar maple tree at the park — a discovery that didn’t surprise the members. Dewar noted older trees are common across the park and in the county, some even located at Jackson Park in the heart of the City of Peterborough.

Because of the trees’ prominence, Dewar encourages everyone to look around and point the team towards forests that they suspect need to be preserved.

“We’ve already had a really good response from people,” she said. “So if anyone has heard of any forests or has known of forests that have been around for a long time, we definitely welcome you to contact us.“

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Trees cut in Victoria Park amid tent city in Peterborough