Dr. Ellie Prepas is looking into forest streams in northern Ontario, and seeing 200 years into the future.
Dr. Prepas and her team have installed data-collecting instrumentation and small control structures at ten remote sites. The equipment enables them to gather highly accurate information about flow rates and water temperature in the streams under varying conditions, as well as levels of suspended solids, and the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen.
Data from the ten sites is crucial to the creation of a piece of software that will enable the development of very long-term forest management plans. Because such plans can cover very long periods, the dynamics involved are complex and interconnected, particularly with regard to water. Harvesting practices affect water resources and water resources affect the amount of timber that can be harvested.
This is where Dr. Prepas’ software comes in. At the heart of the application will be a model that reflects all the key dynamics of a northern Ontario forest watershed—a term referring to any area drained by a single system of streams or rivers. The model is based on information from the stream sites as well as weather data and observations of soil, vegetation and key indicator animal species. Forestry companies and government regulators will be able to plug differing harvest scenarios covering periods of up to 200 years into the application, and see what the long-term environmental effects are likely to be.
The software will be particularly useful when changing circumstances— an insect infestation, for example, or losses to fire—demand adjustments to a management plan. “All of a sudden,” explains Dr. Prepas, “you have to reassess how you’re going to collect your wood and where you’re going to collect it from, and what the effects will be. And in addition, you have to have a reasonable tool to project how the forest is going to come back.” The new modeling software will do all of that.
Several forestry companies are enthusiastically partnering with the Lakehead initiative. So are representatives of the Ontario government; the new software will be a valuable resource for developing forestry regulations.
“In the end,” says Dr. Prepas, “everyone wants to have responsible management of the environment. But you can’t do that unless you have the tools.”