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Letter: Forest management might help Petty Harbour Long Pond

While the pond water looks clear to passersby, some residents serviced by the Petty Harbour Long Pond system have been experiencing discoloured water. The City of St. John’s discovered it is due to elevated levels of manganese. The City of St. John’s has asked residents serviced by the Petty Harbour Long Pond system to use an alternative source of water for drinking while levels of manganese in the water system remain high.
The water supply at Petty Harbour Long Pond, St. John’s. — Telegram file photo

I’m not certain how much of your readership remembers the Newfoundland Fibreply plant which operated in Donovan’s near the “cross-roads” from 1962 to 1979. I remember them because, in 1974, I took a break from my study of forestry at Memorial University and the University of New Brunswick to cut with Newfoundland Fibreply at their Windsor Lake operation. Indeed, Windsor Lake was a main cutting area, and almost the entire watershed was cut from the 1960s into the 1980s.

The forests of the area naturally regrow to the same forest type, and from 1992 to 1994 several hundred hectares of regrowth of the previously cut forest surrounding Windsor Lake was thinned by trainees of the NL Forest Training Association in co-operation with the City of St. John’s.

Similarly, the Bay Bulls Big Pond area has had long-standing, continuous cutting to recent years.

By contrast, in the Petty Harbour Long Pond area, cutting has not been permitted for many decades. It is curious that residents of St. John’s whose water supply is from Petty Harbour Long Pond are advised not to drink the water due to high levels of manganese, a naturally occurring element.

If one were to compare forest age class structures in the different watersheds, one would see that the current forest age class distributions at Windsor Lake and at Bay Bulls Big Pond are more much balanced (have forested land in the younger and in the older 20-year age classes) than Petty Harbour Long Pond (which is heavily skewed to the oldest forest ages).

Forests take up and are vital in the cycling of naturally occurring elements, including trace elements. A more balanced forest age class structure gives a more balanced flow of sustainable goods and ecological services which include water quality, water quantity and nutrient cycling.

Forest management usually aims to regulate the flow of goods and services from forest land so that the flow is sustained and so that the opportunity for massive, naturally occurring catastrophes (which renew the forest) is reduced. Fire prevention, cutting and silviculture are some of the tools available to manage forests and to reduce imbalances in age class distribution and, therefore, reduce imbalances in flows of goods and services.

Foresters’ tools are used in combination to address the current and the desired long-term forest conditions. Failure to use various forest management techniques (for example, doing fire suppression but not allowing cutting) can result in a buildup of woody material which constitutes a hazard for wildfires of abnormally high intensity. Similarly, failure to cut certain age classes can exacerbate imbalances over time. Forest development, succession and cycling are long term processes, planned for a 160-year period. It has been lightheartedly said that forestry is one of the professions that addresses life after (one’s) death.

Regarding water flow and quality, the water for major cities (including New York) comes from managed forested land. Forest management there ensures continuous, quality water flow and includes cutting of forests as a necessary intervention. Well established environmental protection techniques avoid erosion and other possible negative effects, which could occur if operations not conducted properly.

I am retired from the practice of forestry now and am not writing this in order to find work; however, it would be interesting to see if the watershed at Petty Harbour Long Pond would benefit from active forest management. Anyone who has observed the same piece of forested land for a considerable time realizes that the forest is not static, but that it grows, matures and cycles continuously; providing different levels of yields and functioning over time.

Local expertise of trained foresters could greatly inform forest management to help ensure sustained flows of habitat, forest products and ecological services including the regulation of water quantity and quality. I’m not sure how much forestry expertise has been involved in the management of metro watersheds, but it certainly isn’t evident in the watershed of current concern.

William (Bill) M. Clarke
St. John’s
(Bill Clarke is a registered professional forester who resides in the portion of St. John’s supplied by Petty Harbour Long Pond. He currently trucks his drinking water from the city depot on Blackler Avenue.)

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