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The Montmorency forest worries, the carbon neutrality of Université Laval at stake

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The Montmorency forest serves as a carbon sink, but for how long?

  • David Rémillard (View profile)David Rémillard

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Researchers responsible for forest management in the Montmorency forest are concerned about the health of its ecosystems, and in particular their capacity to act as a carbon sink to ensure the carbon neutrality of Laval University. If the concerns come true, “it will be catastrophic not just for us, but for everyone,” they warn.

Natural Resources Canada is categorical: Canada's forests have become sources of carbon dioxide (CO2), releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere than they do accumulate them throughout the year.

Over the last century, managed forests have therefore stored more greenhouse gases (GHG) than they have emitted (fires, decomposition). This trend has, however, been reversed in recent decades.

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Canadian forest burns more than during the last century. (Archive photo)

The total area burned by wildfires has increased considerably. Unprecedented insect infestations have occurred. And, annual harvest rates have changed radically under the influence of economic demands, summarizes the Federal Ministry in its official documents.

A study carried out in Canada and unveiled in 2019 in the journal Naturecame to solidify the thesis of a negative carbon footprint for the boreal forest (New window).

The Montmorency forest has not burned in nearly 3000 years. Taken individually, it escapes statistics.

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She remains safe, for the moment, from the budworm #spruce, an insect responsible for severe epidemics elsewhere in the province and the loss of millions of hectares of forest each year.

Its stands, still relatively young, allow the sequestration of a large quantity of CO2 compared to older forests.

Development forestry is also different from common silvicultural practices on public lands. Partial cuts, close monitoring of plantations and a lower level of cutting are part of our recipe, explains Évelyne Thiffault, president of the scientific and development committee at the Montmorency forest.

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The Montmorency forest has not burned in nearly 3000 years. (File photo)

Result: the study forest, like an enclave, is still considered a carbon sink.

The Montmorency forest team estimates a net gain of nearly 15,000 tonnes of GHGs stored each year in trees, from the roots to the leaves. To arrive at this conclusion, Évelyne Thiffault compares two development models. I take our own scenario and I do the same calculation again but using what is done in public forests.

Laval University then uses the carbon footprint as a tool, among others, for its environmental assessment and to declare itself as a carbon neutral organization.

With an area of ​​397 km2, the Montmorency forest, founded in 1964 and expanded in 2014, is the largest study forest in the world. Located 70 km north of Quebec City, it is located in the heart of fir-white birch forest, one of the three sub-zones of Quebec's boreal forest.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">But the quality of the carbon sink could be compromised.

Signals have indeed begun to worry researchers surveying the Montmorency forest. On the one hand, the presence of moose has caused damage to softwood plantations. Deer, which generally prefer the shoots of leafy species, have also grazed on conifers, species prioritized for reforestation.

This is visible in regenerating sites, explains Évelyne Thiffault. The growth of plantations and their yield for carbon sequestration could therefore be affected in the future. The tree will survive but will develop a strange shape, notes the forest engineer.

The phenomenon has already been observed in Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie, where the overpopulation of moose has caused damage. p>Open in full screen mode

A young fir tree eaten by moose in Bas-Saint-Laurent. (File photo)

In collaboration with biologists, the Montmorency forest team now wants to map the browsing pressure on the territory and determine the impacts on the planted trees. Forest engineers want to monitor their growth but also the quality of the wood fiber for economic purposes.

According to Ms. Thiffault, the density of moose in the Montmorency forest was higher in recent years than elsewhere around its borders, as hunting was not permitted there. However, the population would have fallen drastically over the last two years, which could have slowed down this pressure. If the inventory remains imprecise for the Montmorency forest, the moose herds in the Quebec region have had a hard time north of the river due to the winter tick.

We are still stuck with the past effect of chatter. We must check the sequestration capacity of trees grazed several times and calculate their real yield curves.

White spruce chlorosis, possibly caused by nutritional deficiencies, also raises several questions in the Montmorency forest. Since the early 2000s, sightings of yellowed spruce trees have piqued the curiosity of researchers.

The concern is such that the previous management team of the Montmorency forest decided, a few years ago, to no longer plant this species for reforestation, while waiting to know the phenomena behind the appearance of the chlorosis. Since then, no comprehensive study has been launched.

There has been no inventory of chlorosis, it is #x27;were just anecdotal observations. I have just obtained funding for a research project on this, to have a real statistical portrait of the extent of the problem, continues Évelyne Thiffault.

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Évelyne Thiffault shows the yellowing of a white spruce in the Montmorency forest. (Archive photo)

One ​​of the objectives will be to verify to what extent it is widespread in the Montmorency forest but also in the Laurentides wildlife reserve. It could be that this problem exists elsewhere but that no one is going to check the plantations, it's a hypothesis, she says.

Observation of white spruce plantations, a favorite species of the forestry industry, will be much closer. Does a chlorotic spruce remain so year after year? This is what we want to understand. Does it become chlorotic and its growth is stunted for good, or does it start again later?

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Chlorosis of white spruce is worrying in the Montmorency forest.

If the results of the two researches demonstrate losses in tree yield for CO2 sequestration, the carbon sink would no longer have the same effectiveness.

The gains estimated by the forest management plan specific to the Montmorency forest would then be compromised, as would the carbon neutrality strategy of Laval University, which will then have to find other levers. We will redo the calculations and this may perhaps affect future returns.

Everything will depend, according to Évelyne Thiffault, if the problems experienced in the Montmorency forest are specific to her. Is this specific to the Montmorency forest? But if they are widespread elsewhere in public forests, the study forest would then retain its margin of efficiency compared to other managed forests, although this would be bad news for the overall yield of the forests. It's going to be catastrophic not just for the rest of us, but for everyone.

There is great concern in the Montmorency forest, but this concern is shared with the entire Quebec forest, and even worldwide.

A quote from Évelyne Thiffault, president of the scientific and design

What's more, the two disturbances under study do not take into account the anticipated effects of the long-term climate. We know that climate change worsens natural disturbances.

In addition to forestry developments, the fate of the Montmorency forest will also provide indicators for the quality of woody material. Because one of the objectives of the site is to offer concrete solutions to the industry to produce quality wood while maintaining environmentally sustainable activities.

Évelyne Thiffault finally reminds us that what happens in the forest is only one part of sustainable development and that other strategies will also need to be developed, in parallel, to conserve carbon in the biomass represented by trees. Our recent work shows that it is almost more important what we do with our wood than what happens in the forest.

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