The “artificial” natural forest

Larose Forest, Ottawa area

This morning I drove out Ottawa way to join my sister and mother who were doing a horseback ride in support of breast cancer research. The ride was organized by a local group that helps maintain the trail system in one of the largest tracts of forest near Ottawa, and in fact southern Ontario south of the Shield. At 26,000+ acres, the Larose Forest stretches for miles. Within its boundaries are about 160 km (100 miles) of trails and roads. The pink ribbon ride did a loop through a portion of these trails. I came along partially for logistical support and camera-handling, and partially to visit the forest. While they were off on their ride, I hiked through a small portion of the trails. (You’ll be able to see more photos from the ride itself at my mom’s blog.)

Larose Forest, Ottawa area

The forest has an interesting history. Most of it originally started out as a plantation forest, and its history as such can still be seen among the tall, straight pines that grow more or less in lines. Enough time has passed that it’s just starting to lose its plantation feel – a few pines have come down out of the rows, and the understory has been growing up, disguising the straight lines.

Larose Forest, Ottawa area

The plantation was the result of the dedication of Ferdinand Larose, who was hired by the Ontario Department of Agriculture to address the barren sand plains that had been left over as a result of aggressive logging in the latter half of the 1800s. Virtually all of the virgin trees were eventually removed, leaving nothing but an empty desert. Agricultural practices took over, but the denuded landscape was suffering from heavy erosion. The Larose Forest began as an initiative to try to curb some of this erosion. It is now identified as the second-largest plantation forest in southern Ontario (I’m not sure what is the first, and the websites didn’t say), and the largest tract of forest in eastern Ontario.

Larose Forest, Ottawa area

The land was bought by the county from private landowners and manually replanted. Red Pine was the first species to be planted, followed by White Pine and White Spruce, and later early-successional deciduous species such as birch or poplar. At the peak of replanting efforts, in the 1940s and 1950s, some one million trees a year were being planted. The last significant planting took place in the 1970s; annual seedling numbers had been reduced to about 200,000 by that point.

Larose Forest, Ottawa area

From the outset the forest was intended to be a harvested resource, but also a multi-use public land. Logging still takes place at low, sustainable rates, and until recently most removal of felled timber was done by horses. Revenue obtained through the logging is returned to the forest for maintenance of infrastructure such as roads and signage. The trail system is used by hikers and mountain bikers, but also horseback riders and dog sledders. ATV riders have their own designated trails. Unfortunately, hunting also takes place in the forest – I say “unfortunately” not out of concern for the animals, though it is unfortunate for those that get taken, but rather for non-hunters who are at risk during these periods (even though hunters are supposed to avoid the hiking trails). I try to avoid anywhere there might be hunters during the open season.

Larose Forest, Ottawa area

Although the oldest parts are only 80 years old, the forest already contains a remarkable diversity of creatures. Much of their species lists come from a BioBlitz undertaken in 2007. Other lists are maintained and added to annually. A total of 141 species of birds have been tallied from the forest, including such rare or threatened species as Evening Grosbeak, Northern Goshawk, and Whip-poor-will. Other groups, including herpetiles, mammals, butterflies, odonates, vascular plants, and others, have also been documented. They’ve even got a moth list, which stands at 211 species, probably representing only a handful of nights of effort, given that any mothing parties would by necessity need to be brought in and run off of a generator.

Larose Forest, Ottawa area

There appears to be some development pressure on the forest, as there always seems to be with large tracts of “unused” land. Everybody seems to have an idea on the best way to utilize the space, and a lot of these people’s plans don’t include nature appreciation as part of it. So far, however, development remains as pressure and not as present activities – and hopefully it stays that way.

Larose Forest, Ottawa area