A landscape ecological approach to private woodlot planning in New Brunswick

Matthew Betts and Graham Forbes 1


A large proportion of forest land in New Brunswick, Canada (circa 50%) and eastern North America as a whole exists in small private holdings. If biodiversity is to be conserved at the landscape and regional level, it will be critical to develop tools for involving these many landowners in large-scale conservation planning. The purpose of this project was to initiate a community forestry project for small private woodlots that encourages the implementation of landscape ecological objectives. To accomplish this, the Greater Fundy Ecosystem Research Group (GFERG) and the SNB Wood Coop Ltd. (SNB) cooperated with local communities in the Fundy Model Forest, New Brunswick, to create landscape ecological management plans for two watersheds. Important components of this landscape plan included the maintenance of large contiguous patches of mature forest, special management areas, steep slopes, sensitive soils, wildlife corridors and ecologically significant areas.


The conservation of biodiversity in forests requires planning at a variety of scales including the genetic, species, population, community and landscape levels (Wilson 1992). A common perceived barrier to the achievement of biodiversity conservation on small private woodlots is the fragmented nature of land ownership. It is often believed that multiple land ownership precludes planning for the large scale, landscape-level spatial objectives that are an essential component of sound forest management. Landowners with diverse management goals may be less likely to cooperate to the degree necessary to protect trans-boundary features such as wildlife habitat or water quality (Woodley and Forbes 1997, FSC Canadian Maritime Regional Initiative 2000, Betts et al. 2002). However, a large portion of the total forestland in New Brunswick, Canada (C.A. 50%) and eastern North America as a whole exists in small private holdings. Further, in southern New Brunswick, forest fragmentation is occurring most rapidly on small private woodlots. If biodiversity is to be conserved at the landscape and regional level, it will be critical to develop tools for involving these many landowners in large-scale conservation planning. This paper describes an ongoing project, the purpose of which is to initiate community forestry on small private woodlots that encourages the implementation of landscape ecological objectives. To accomplish this, the Greater Fundy Ecosystem Research Group (GFERG) and the SNB Wood Coop Ltd. (SNB) cooperated with local communities in the Fundy Model Forest (FMF), New Brunswick, to develop a landscape management plan for two third-order watersheds. We are currently in the process of developing woodlot plans that fit within the context of these broader landscape level plans.

Project Area

The area of the FMF (4,500 km2) extends north of the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick (Fig. 1). The Greater Fundy Ecosystem Intensive Study Area (ISA) includes all watersheds that connect to Fundy National Park. Landownership in the FMF is 63% small private woodlots, 17% large private holdings, 15% provincial Crown (public) land, and 5% National Park. All of the FMF lies within the Acadian Forest Region (Rowe 1972). The FMF area is characterized by 89% forest cover, a maritime climate, and rolling topography (Woodley 1998).


The GFERG is a multi-partner association of natural scientists and resource managers. The objectives of the GFERG are to (a) develop the scientific knowledge required to manage forests sustainably and (b) develop options for sustainable forest management at multiple scales. SNB is a forest owner association developed in 1975. SNB's responsibilities include marketing timber products from small private woodlots, implementing silviculture programs, and woodlot owner education.

Selecting Priority Watersheds

We chose third-order watersheds as the logical unit for landscape planning in southern New Brunswick. Because watersheds are easily delineated and are ecologically based, they are superior to both political `county' borders, and potentially ambiguous conceptions of "landscape" boundaries (Forman 1998).

The first challenge of the Watershed-based Woodlot Management Planning Project was to identify a candidate watershed that would serve as a pilot area for the testing of the landscape-level planning process. Members of the SNB Wood Coop and the GFERG jointly developed selection criteria based on (1) The total area of ecologically significant features (mature forest, rare community groups, rare species), and (2) The total proportion of the watershed occupied by private woodlots (In order to develop an effective spatial management plan it is necessary for a land base to cover a sufficient enough portion of a watershed to be able to exert an influence on landscape-level processes).

Criteria for each watershed were obtained with the use of a Geographic Information System (GIS). Each watershed was ranked according how well it met the criteria. Out of the 28 third order watersheds within the FMF two were similarly ranked at the top according to our criteria: the Washademoak and Pollett River watersheds.

Fifty-six percent of the 36,817 ha Washademoak watershed is owned by non-industrial woodlot owners. Of this 46% is categorized as mature forest (>70 years old). Fifty-one percent of the Pollett River Watershed is in small private ownership. Of this 50% is old forest. The Pollett River Watershed surrounds Elgin, New Brunswick, 40 km north of Fundy National Park (Fig. 2).

Determining Community Planning Priorities

While SNB and the GFERG had broad objectives for the Watershed Projects, we felt that it was critical to determine the major concerns of local residents. If the project is to succeed, it is important for woodlot owners to understand that watershed planning is to be directed by them after we provided the initial catalyst.

All woodlot owners from within the boundaries of the watersheds were invited to initial meetings the purpose of which was to describe our broad objectives and to determine community goals. We provided a brief description of the importance of landscape-level planning to watersheds. Communities in both watersheds expressed very similar objectives, which were focused on water quality, wildlife habitat, job retention and aesthetics. In general, communities were concerned that clearcut timber harvesting was negatively affecting both water quality and wildlife habitat (particularly white-tailed deer habitat). Concern about the rate of cutting was emphasized in several meetings. Both communities stated the desire to limit job losses due to the mechanization of timber harvesting.

Landscape Ecological Planning

We developed a set of what we considered `landscape scale ecological features'. These features are primarily based on Forest Management Guidelines to Protect Native Biodiversity in the Fundy Model Forest - a set of recommendations developed in 1997 by the GFERG for the Fundy Model Forest (Woodley and Forbes 1997). These landscape ecological features included mature forest of critical forest community types, large contiguous forest patches, wildlife corridors, watercourse buffers, and sensitive soils. However, we included features that were not explicitly included in the guidelines that had particular relevance to the Washademoak and Elgin communities (deer wintering areas, sensitive soils and steep slopes). Our rationale for inclusion of each component in the landscape level plan were as follows:

Mature and Overmature Forest: Due to ever-increasing societal demand for forest products, mature and overmature forest is under intensifying harvest pressure (MacDougall and Loo 1996). If species that depend upon old forest are to be conserved it is critical that amounts of these older age classes are maintained.

Critical Forest Community Groups (tolerant hardwood, eastern cedar, tolerant mixedwood, and pine): The community groups listed above are under some degree of threat due to the poor regenerative capacities of their component tree species (Archambault et al. 1998

Large Patches: Certain species require large areas of mature forest (E.G., "area sensitive") (Robbins et al. 1989). As large patches of mature forest are fragmented by roads, urban development or timber harvesting, an appropriate forest type may decline in habitat quality for many species. We mapped all forest patches in the watershed that are greater the hypothesized minimum size requirements of native bird species (Beaudette 2000).

Deer Winter Habitat (DWH): Research in the Fundy Model Forest has shown that the mild winters of the area usually allow deer to move freely. However in winters with deep snow deer movement may be limited. Large areas of coniferous and mixedwood forest serve as refuges with shallower snow depths (Sabine et al. 2001). The habitat areas were mapped by applying the yield curves used in SNB's forest development analysis to the spatial forest inventory, applying the age class distribution to the forest stands and then applying the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources' habitat definitions to each of these curves.

Wildlife Corridors: The GFERG has recommended that strategically placed corridors are one possible solution to the risks caused by fragmentation (Woodley and Forbes 1997). Corridors are strips of native vegetation that `connect' patches of habitat. These can serve many purposes such as: increasing gene flow by allowing interaction among wildlife in separate patches, providing seasonal migration routes, and providing paths for dispersing young in search of prospective habitat (Forman 1998). We adopted the present GFERG guideline for corridors of 300 m width. Only areas with existing mature forest in the configuration necessary to connect large mature patches were delineated.

Watercourse Buffers: Forest harvest activities have the potential to significantly affect the quality and quantity of freshwater systems. The proximity and extent of harvests near waterways can alter the amount of coarse woody debris, water temperature, siltation levels, nutrient availability, and stream hydrology. In turn, these abiotic factors have been shown to affect the abundance and functions of fish, amphibians, invertebrates, and vegetation (Woodley and Forbes 1997). For the purposes of this plan we simply identified all areas that fall within 30 m of watercourses. However, in areas with steep slopes, buffers were mapped from the top of the slope. As individual plans are developed it will be necessary to tailor buffer widths to site-level considerations such as slope, soil type and forest cover type.

Sensitive Soils and Steep Slopes: These are two of the most critical factors to maintaining water quality in the Washademoak watershed. At a coarse-level we identified all steep slopes with the use of digital elevation maps. "Steep" was defined in two categories: (1) 20-30% and (2) >30%. The majority of the soil types in the Washademoak watershed can be considered "sensitive" due to high erosive capacity.

Watershed Plans and Outreach

All of the ecological features described above were mapped for both watersheds using SNB's Geographic Information System, which is based upon 1993 photo-interpreted data. In so doing, we developed `coarse scale' landscape level watershed management plans. Of the 40,617 ha land occupied by small private woodlots in the Washademoak watershed, 11,757 ha (28.9%) were categorized as one of our defined landscape ecological features (Table 1). In the Pollett River, 12,518 ha of 60,286 ha (20.7%) private woodlots was classified as important to the landscape ecology of the watershed (Fig. 3). No corridors were identified in this watershed because of the inherent connectivity of mature forest that had already been identified as landscape ecological features.

Upon completion of watershed plans, we organized a second meeting in each watershed, the purpose of which was to present our results as a `tentative' ecological plan. It was important to emphasize three realities to landowners. First, that the mapped areas were derived from GIS information only and therefore might be altered as `ground-truthed' information became available. Second, many of the ecological areas that were mapped could be maintained with `special management' rather than `strict protection' approaches. Third, and most importantly, we emphasized that participation in implementing the plan was strictly voluntary.

Several incentives are provided to woodlot owners who are willing to participate in the planning process by incorporating the landscape features into woodlot plans. (1) Inexpensive woodlot management plans are provided to woodlot owners who agree to include landscape-level habitat objectives in their woodlot plans. In 2001 we received funding from the Fundy Model Forest and the Kendall Foundation (Boston Mass.) to enable us to provide this service. (2) To woodlot owners interested solely in non-timber values, we have suggested the possibility of conservation easements. These enable income tax breaks for woodlot owners with land considered to be ecologically unique (Nature Trust of New Brunswick 2000). (New Brunswick developed conservation easement legislation in 2000). We incorporated individual woodlot owners' objectives into all plans. Thu,s in all cases the planning process was a cooperative exercise between SNB, GFERG and individual woodlot owners.

Data and GIS layers that make up the watershed management plans were entered into SNB's GIS system. The plans are now available for all woodlot owners from the Washademoak and Pollett river watersheds.

Implementation: Woodlot Management Planning

In the fall of 2002 GFERG and SNB began the implementation phase of this project. This involves the translation of GIS-based landscape plans into on-the-ground management plans that protect landscape-level biodiversity on a woodlot-by-woodlot basis. Landowners in the Pollett River Watershed are being contacted and encouraged to meet with woodlot managers to discuss potential individual and biodiversity benefits of woodlot planning. Woodlot owners have been prioritized for contact according to the area of land that they own categorized as landscape-level biodiversity features. Woodlot plans focus not only on conserving these features, but also managing for fine-scale stand structures that are critical to biodiversity (e.g. snags, coarse woody debris, rare plant species). After three months, 75 woodlot management plans have been completed representing 2196 ha (Fig. 4). While this is only 3.6% of the private woodlots in the watershed, it represents a disproportionate amount of mature forest (19.1%) and Gap sites (29.5%). Nevertheless, as the goal is to affect conservation of biodiversity at the scale of the entire watershed it is clear that this must be an ongoing project.


While the both watershed plans were well received by woodlot owners who attended the second meetings, we have had to face several challenges in the process of broad-scale implementation. First, it has been crucial to solicit the participation of a larger number of woodlot owners. In both meetings it was clear that most attending woodlot owners already held a strong conservation ethic. We are now attempting to involve woodlot owners who are less oriented toward conservation goals, even if it involves more actively soliciting their involvement. This challenge involves the development of additional financial incentives for woodlot owner involvement. This will center on searching for markets for sustainably-produced forest products. Second, self-perpetuating watershed committees need to be established. It is envisaged that communities will engage in a process of continual planning (adaptive management) even in the absence of SNB and the GFERG. SNB and GFERG will act as voluntary consultants for the watershed communities.

The involvement of New Brunswick provincial government and the local industrial timber company (J.D. Irving) would also increase the likelihood of project success. Existing spatial plans for Crown land could be integrated with the plan for the woodlot portion of the watershed. This would increase options for large patch and corridor management. Further, it might increase the likelihood of woodlot owner participation if the provincial government was seen to be `doing their part'.

While the challenges to developing an integrated plan on private woodlots for landscape-level biodiversity are many, the initial phases of this project indicate that they are not insurmountable. The right combination of incentives and education will allow the achievement of landscape plans based on ecological rather than political boundaries.


This project is made possible by the generous financial support of the Fundy Model Forest and the Kendall Foundation.


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Beaudette, D. 2000. Habitat definitions for vertebrate forest wildlife. New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, 11 pp.

Betts, M., J. Knox, and G. Forbes. 2002. A landscape ecological approach to private woodlot planning in New Brunswick. Natural Areas Journal 22(4): 311-317

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Table 1. Areas (ha) of landscape ecological features delineated in the Washademoak Watershed Plan

Ecological Feature


Pollett River Area (ha)

Washademoak >Area (ha)

Total Watershed (all land tenures)





30% +



Forest Dev. Stage




Forest Community Group

Tolerant hardwood




Tolerant mixedwood




Eastern Cedar








Spruce/ Fir




Black spruce




Balsam fir



Gap Sites




Deer Winter Habitat








Large Patches

Tolerant hardwood




Tolerant mixedwood




Eastern Cedar











Note: Some forest stands have been counted as more than one ecological feature. Unless otherwise specified, data are for private woodlots only.

Fig. 1 Location of the Fundy Model Forest and the Greater Fundy Ecosystem Intensive Study Area (ISA) in southern New Brunswick.

Fig. 2 Location of pilot watershed areas in southern New Brunswick.

Fig. 3 Coarse scale landscape level watershed management plan for the Pollett River watershed.

Fig. 4 Land tenure and woodlot owners participating in landscape project as of November 2002 (attached jpeg)

1 Greater Fundy Ecosystem Research Group, P.O. Box 45111, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, Canada.