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Algonquin Park

 
Posts: 115
Location: Eastern Ontario
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Alqonquin Park is the oldest provincial park in Canada. It was established in 1893.  Wikipedia has a better description than I can give Algonquin Provincial Park.
About 6 years ago I took my family camping there and have gone back a couple of times since. I highly recommend it.

What I am writing today about is the fascinating and unexpected interaction between park management, forestry and wildlife. I believe there is a permaculture lesson here. I am just not smart enough to  come up with it!

The park was set up to protect a large tract of land from colonization. Otherwise colonists would clearcut the forests for their farms.  The lumber barons of the day did nt want this so they petitioned the provincial government to set the land aside for logging only.  During the parks early days the forest was badly managed.  Forests were clear cut. As soon as a track of forest had regrown enough to be profitable to harvest, they were.  Poplar is a pioneer species that grows after disturbances, so poplar trees become much more prevalent.  Deer like to browse on poplar leaves. Part of the park rangers job was to shoot and poison wolves who were seen as vermin who predated on deer who drew visitors to the park.  The deer population took off both because of pressure on wolves and all the tasty poplar leaves.   Deer carry a parasite that does nt bother them too much but kills moose. So when deer populations were high moose populations are down.  Despite the efforts of park rangers the Eastern Red Wolves population remained healthy since they had so many deer to eat.

Since the 1950s the park has been managed in a more sustainable way with selective cuttings in the hardwood section of the park and  shelterbed system in the softwood areas.  Park rangers stopped hunting and poisoning wolves.  Today Algonquin is the last refuge of the Red Wolf. Good news right? Wrong. Wolf populations are down and they may go extinct. Why? The forest is managed 'better', there is less disturbances, less poplar trees for deer to eat  and less deer for wolves to eat.

I was fascinated by this example of the law of unintended consequences. I think for the sake of the wolves they should go back to clear cutting the forests.  But with so much clear cutting going on it seems retrograde to do that.   I suppose my permaculture take on things is that nature is complex and often by doing what you think is right you may not be.
 
pollinator
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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We camped in the south-eastern part when I was a child, and portaged some around the south-west and the north of the park when I was a teen and young adult.

I think you've hit upon an instance where action will soon be required. I think that you could still achieve what you're looking for through selective logging, but the issue there is access.

Honestly, I would have to talk to a forester and do some reading again on the area, but if we're dealing with some aspects of ecosystems that require fire for regeneration, we should be looking at selective clearing of viable timber, leaving individuals too old or too young, and then encouraging spot-burns where applicable.

In my opinion, instead of focusing solely the deer-wolf dynamic, I would look first to the species that the deer displaced, the moose. I would ensure that there's sufficient aquatic edge-habitat, as that's where they thrive.

I think, therefore, looking at the beaver dynamic in the park would be beneficial. They create and expand aquatic habitat, which creates more riparian aquatic edge habitat. They also have a stake in poplar stands. It would be interesting to see if there's a mechanism by which the beaver could be induced, or allowed, to increase the poplar balance as well.

So perhaps there would be separate zones that favoured moose and beaver ecology, and other zones that favoured deer and wolves, perhaps with human elements, like camp sites and access roads, acting as barriers to decrease contact between the two. I would also probably immunise the moose from deer-borne illness, where possible.

I wish permaculturalists could slowly (okay, not so slowly; anyone in the mood for a coup?) infiltrate and take over management of the park, opportunistically spreading traditional pre-Columbian food systems where possible and possibly encouraging some ecosystem humidification by encouraging tree species, probably riparian, to take up residence, keeping bodies of water cooler by shading the shallows, and for some, like the Cottonwood, pumping water into the air when it's arid. In humid natural suntraps, we could introduce the paw paw.

I would look at it as a permaculturally-aligned, food-centric way of increasing the carrying capacity of the park. More food means more life, and more life means faster nutrient cycling and more carbon sequestration within the system.

And more to enjoy as a visitor to the park. I remember falling asleep to crickets, and being wakened by the mating calls of bullfrogs. I wonder if they're still there...

-CK
 
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All the park managers need to do is add some poplar or other deer fancied trees to the mix.
As you have noticed, most of the problems were man created in the first place and the more man meddles with nature, the more nature is harmed.
Humans have spent most of their time here making a mess of things that were working just fine, and they did most of their destructive things in the name of profits.
Humans have made it a practice to get rid of the top predators, a move that has changed areas that used to be lush with plant and animal life but either are now barren or monoculture spaces.
In the last 20 years it has been shown to the point of being a science proof that top predators are actually the keystone animals of any ecosystem, and that removing the keystone animals will insure that ecosystem will be destroyed.
 
steward
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We did a canoe trip from Achray down to Barron Canyon a few years ago. We portaged through old growth stands of trees. What struck me was how small those trees were. My thought then was that the land that was set apart was the bad one where nothing grew really well.

From experience, a forest that is managed (or naturally periodically disturbed) will be more productive. Humans can be a keystone species in the ecosystem.



 
Adrien Lapointe
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
In the last 20 years it has been shown to the point of being a science proof that top predators are actually the keystone animals of any ecosystem, and that removing the keystone animals will insure that ecosystem will be destroyed.



Ah! I was writing as you were posting! I guess we had similar thoughts about the importance of keystone species. :-)
 
Chris Kott
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With respect, kola Redhawk, while I don't think there's a thing you've said that is incorrect, I am more inclined to Adrien's take on the potential of human activity to be beneficial.

Of course, people cost money to employ, so just making a management change that resulted in more poplar and food species, like for instance controlled burns, would be more effective than a horticulturally-minded intensive approach.

I think, though, that the beavers could be very useful from a moose and aquatic insect perspective, and for ensuring that the landscape doesn't dry out too much.

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Adrien, humans are the ultimate keystone species, everything we touch, we change, and most times it has not been for the better.

Humans saw forest fires and said it was a bad thing, so they stopped the fires from burning, but they also failed to understand that fire gets rid of forest floor clutter that is fire food, so forest fires became larger and burned more acres than ever when humans didn't touch the forest.
Humans are the only animal that has destroyed the land to the point that nothing can grow.
Nature can and will make a comeback quickly when we undo the harm we have done.
Yellowstone Park is one of the places we are using as a test area and bringing in wolves restored the nature balance between elk and the landscape.
The human caused barren areas are repopulating with the trees and plants that our meddling resulted in the destruction of.

The good news is that we humans also have the ability to correct our mistakes of the past as we discover them.
We have people doing exactly that now but it will take time to fix the errors of the past 250 years.
 
Adrien Lapointe
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Chris Kott wrote:I think, though, that the beavers could be very useful from a moose and aquatic insect perspective, and for ensuring that the landscape doesn't dry out too much.



I am not sure if water is an issue there, perhaps in some areas. Maybe because we were in a canoe...duh!
 
pollinator
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Location: Ontario - zone 5b
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I grew up on a piece of land where, with good rubber boots, you could walk from straight into the park without ever crossing a road, all on crown land. I've driven into the park by accident a few times. I've also spent a fair amount of time camping in the backcountry. It's a beautiful place.

As are all things in life - it's more complicated than is presented here, or I have the background to describe. Here's a few thoughts on the issues that have been raised in this thread, based on spending time in and around the park, reading the management plan, and talking to some of the people who work there (both loggers and researchers).

I was really surprised to hear that wolves are threatened in the park. We used to have a wolf pack living on our land in the winters (not sure if it still does as I don't walk the trails in the winter anymore to notice wolf sign  or stay overnight and hear them howl), and I usually saw a few wolves every year while driving on backroads. Bears are abundant. I found this research... It's not been updated since 2017, but says the population has been more or less stable since they started tracking in the 1980s. http://www.sbaa.ca/projects.asp?cn=314. Based on this research, they seem to suggest protecting wolves from people in the surrounding areas is the most important issue.

Algonquin park is a fascinating place - a lot of people from the city think it's completely wild, and it really isn't... honestly a lot of the adjacent crown land is more wild.  In my opinion, it's probably one of the most heavily - and carefully - managed large tracts of forest in the country. Some of the lakes in the park are stocked with fish. If you paddle with your eyes open, you can see the remnants of historical logging activities, previous campsites recovering, etc. It's extensivly dammed and logged (mostly small check dams, less than a meter in height for water level maintenance purposes, leftover from historical logging). Areas are set aside for both recreation and logging. World leading biological research is conducted from the park's research centres, and park policy is informed by the results of the research there.  Still, with the way the development is managed, you can canoe for days, especially on the popular routes, and never really see any signs of human activity, other than the water control dams, signs, and the thunderboxes in the campsites. They are very careful (due to environmental regulations, but probably also optics) to keep logging away from the waterways.

From the park management plan

"Currently,  the  silvicultural systems  used  in  Algonquin  Park  include  the  selection system, uniform shelterwood system, and patch clear-cut-ting.  The  selection  and  uniform  shelterwood  systems  are the principal silvicultural systems. The selection system is used  primarily  on  tolerant  hardwoods  such  as  Sugar  Maple  or  American  Beech  and  the  uniform  shelterwood  system  is  usually  used  on  upland  tolerant  conifers  such  as White Pine. In these systems individual trees are selected for harvesting, thus maintaining a continuous forest cover which   encourages   optimum   regeneration.   The   third silvicultural  system,  clear  cutting,  is  applied  in  patches  to create openings for the establishment of (shade) intolerant species, such as White Birch and Trembling Aspen, which require an abundance    of    space    and    sunlight    to regenerate."



The loggers I know are pretty proud of the care they take when logging.  There's some misleading information online about the protected areas and where people can log - in addition to the "Protected areas",

"logging is prohibited in July and August within 1.6 kilometres of a canoe route, including lakes, or within 30 metres of a public access road or recreation site. No logging can occur within 60 metres of campsites, portages, hiking and ski trails, and only modified partial cutting within 120 metres of all these recreational features.Ontario’s new Endangered Species Act presents an entirely new set of guidelines as to when logging can occur. For example, species at risk restrictions limit logging in many areas between October and April. There are a host of species-specific harvest and road construction restrictions, including timing and harvest modifications for wildlife such as hawk nests, wolves, moose and trout. There is also concern with certain species of turtles and the need to preserve their habitat, as they are long lived and don’t reproduce quickly."

I won't say the logging is perfect, but it's done to a pretty high and well thought out standard.

The history of that area is incredibly logged-  you don't see old growth forest anywhere near the river systems. In some areas, if you look down, you can actually see old sunken logs from the logging days. I've canoed from Achray to Barron Canyon- I never noted much in the way of old growth trees. There is old growth on some of the hiking trails away from the water, but the lakes and rivers were once major logging sites. Old growth near the waterways, if it exists, tends to be the scrappy trees, like cedar which had little value.

The park does allow forest fires to burn especially in the more remote areas of the park. Since I grew up near one of the more remote areas of the park, I watch this pretty closely. I'm unsure if they do prescribed burns in the park, though the management plan allows for them, but Ontario Parks does do them in other provincial parks. Personally, the state of the underbrush in Ontario terrifies me, I fully anticipate Eastern Ontario to go up in flames at some point... but that's a larger scale problem than just Algonquin Park.

I think one of the biggest threats to the park is the calls to stop all logging activity, which is already mostly selective cutting. Beyond the obvious financial impacts on my hometown and others like it, without a clear alternative way to manage the forest - (will they change from logging 1 percent each year to burning 1 per cent each year? I would be okay with this, but none of the stuff I have seen suggests people are considering the need to manage the forest) I suspect this path will lead to more harm than good.

Beavers are doing just fine in the area - I lost count of how many beaver lodges I saw last time I was in the park, plus seeing two actual beavers. My family property has at least two beaver dams, probably 3-4 on 100 acres (we have a lot of swamp from dammed up streams). One of the park's most important roles is protecting the headwaters of various rivers that provide the water to much of southern Ontario.

Bullfrogs and other amphibians are also doing just fine in the park, it can actually be a challenge not to step on them. There is little large-scale agriculture, pesticide, or fertilizer use for hundreds of kilometers, and we've mostly fixed the acid rain issue with improved environmental regulations. I can send you pictures if you're worried!

As for deer and moose.... In my area, deer graze in the deciduous uplands in the summer and travel down to the coniferous valleys in the winter. Usually the composition of the forests and distribution of the deer has more to do with sunlight and moisture than anything else. Wind topple is also a big factor for conifers in the uplands - the root system doesn't seem to be as strong and the soil is thin. At least where I grew up, surviving the winter (ie, having enough conifers to eat, and a low snowpack ) is the limiting factor on deer populations.  Deer also favour more disturbed areas than moose. Historically you seldom see deer in the same area as moose, and I believe deer were actually fairly rare in the area prior to colonization. Basically the large scale land clearing, logging, and road development have pushed the ranges of deer, moose, and caribou north.

One of the largest threats to the moose population is climate change- with warmer temperatures in the winter, ticks aren't dying over the winter, and moose are literally being sucked dry over the winter, and dying. They are called "ghost moose", and are pretty heartbreaking.  


Edited to add:

I guess if i was to take a permaculture lesson from Algonquin park - it's that, with careful management, it's possible to balance the needs of wildlife, economic development, and recreation and create a space that works for  everyone. I'd also look at how the parks policies have evolved over time, and continue to evolve, and suggest that it's a good lesson on how this management isn't,and can never be, static and unchanging.

 
Jeff Marchand
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Thank you Catie for your exceptionally well informed post on one of Ontario's crown jewels.  My understanding from my visits esp in the Hwy 60 corridor was that wolf population was down and now ironically below levels when wolves were hunted and poisoned.

I support logging in the park. By all accounts loggers have done a great job in the park. The point of my post was maybe they have done too good a job and maybe there should be more clear cutting to support a higher deer population to feed more wolves.

I envy you living out by the park.
 
Catie George
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You may very well be right Jeff - if I recall correctly, most of the Hwy 60 corridor is in the "Protected Zone", which means zero logging. I did see some articles about less wolves at the wolf howls along the corridor - I wonder if it is because the area along corridor is not logged.... It would not surprise me if the "make it look pretty for tourists" section had lost some biodiversity and become not as good of a hunting ground. Better management practices in the rest of the park + not as good ones along the corridor might very well mean a drop in wolves near the corridor, and an overall rise in wolves elsewhere = around the same number of wolves as before.  

Personally, I'd like to see more prescribed burning than clear cutting. .Some species can't really flourish except in the aftermath of a fire, and in my opinion, clear cut lands often lead to a lot of soil erosion.  I was also really interested to see how, in the aftermath of selected cutting, many trees that weren't cut fell to the forest floor in windstorms, as they no longer have the support of surrounding trees branches and roots to hold them upright. i wonder if there could be some sort of combination of logging and prescribed burning to make our current system more "natural".

And if I am doing a wishlist - I would love more adjacent crown land to be added to the park and managed in this same way, and more canoe routes and hiking trails developed. Even more car camping sites - I know they basically have to be booked 6 months in advance. I think it would do our population good to have more people out in the wilderness. I'd also love to see some of the newer large parks (QEII wildlands, Kawartha Highlands, etc) opened to the public and managed similarly.

It's funny - when I lived by the park, I only went there once or twice, for day trips, or drove through. Now that I am gone, I try to go at least once each year and stay overnight in the backcountry. It truly is a Crown Jewel, and one that appreciate more now that it's no longer in my backyard.

 
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