Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree...Why cutting down trees is sometimes a good thing
Under the backdrop of the spectacular Purcell Mountains, the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) Canadian Rockies office hosted their first-ever Christmas tree cutting event on the Marion Creek Benchlands property in southeastern British Columbia.
More than 60 brave souls came out in - 25 C weather (yes, it really was -25). But the fire, bratwurst, hot chocolate (with Baileys, for the older tree cutters) and the sun made it feel practically balmy.
Christmas tree cutting may seem like an odd event for a conservation organization. Historically, these forests were open and dry, and the property had been maintained through regular forest fires. However, years of effective fire suppression in the valley bottoms of the Rocky Mountains have had the unintended side effect of excessive conifer (Douglas-fir and pine) growth.
Excessive trees in the understory results in a lack of sunlight reaching the low-growing plants and a resulting reduction in grass, forb and shrub growth. Although these trees are native to the Rocky Mountains, excess numbers have resulted in ecological problems that include:
- loss of habitat for endangered species, like badgers;
- loss of grass for elk and deer; and
- an increased risk of catastrophic forest fire.
NCC is tackling this issue through mechanical forest thinning and trying to restore fire to these systems. By physically removing trees from the landscape, we allow more light to reach the forest floor, which improves forage for wildlife and restores habitats that were historically open. The removal of trees also removes a serious fire hazard from the landscape.
Given that we needed to thin these trees, Nancy Newhouse, the program manager for the Canadian Rockies, had the very bright idea of combining our traditional community holiday event (usually an open house) with our restoration activities. Having formerly been managed as a Christmas tree farm (also known as Santa’s forest), Marion Creek Benchlands was therefore an ideal spot to hold the event.
Despite the frigid temperature, the Christmas tree hunters were enthusiastic. People wandered off into the forest armed with handsaws and a keen eye. The only instructions were to leave the large trees for wildlife. People were free to take as many trees as they liked. Some were happy with what they thought was the one perfect tree and some were more production-oriented. Some were just happy with the hot chocolate and the fire.
This event was an ideal way to engage the local community in conservation and NCC’s work on the ground while giving back, just a little bit, to our supporters. It was also a testament to how wonderful our partners are in the Canadian Rockies: coffee and all the accoutrements were provided by Kicking Horse Coffee, cookies from the Quality Bakery, firewood from the Columbia Valley Rockies Junior Hockey Club, beautiful photos from Steph Van de Kemp of Cleanline Automotive and support from Spirit’s Reach all contributed to an idyllic day.
At the end of the day, not only did Christmas tree cutters walk away happy, but NCC benefited from having a number of trees removed from the property, which will benefit wildlife in the long-term.