Boundary Waters Forest Management Corp. (BWFMC) holds the Sustainable Forest License for the Boundary Waters Forest, and as such, is required to address competing vegetation in conifer-dominated stands.
According to their forest management plan set in place by the province, BWFMC is to return a forest stand to its original composition. And in order to do that, they’ll usually conduct an annual herbicide spray.
“It’s not the only way we do it, but it’s one of the most effective ways of doing it,” said Ian Armstrong, Boundary Waters general manager.
Tending has many benefits to the conifers like survival, tree diameter, height and basal area growth, volume growth, increased nutrient uptake, and resistance to damage from insects.
BWFMC says they’ve been working to minimize herbicide use while still reducing species that compete for light, water, and nutrients with their crop trees.
Boundary Waters has already used many alternatives to herbicide spraying such as using brush saws, various hand tools, and different herbicide application approaches like back pack, ground-based air blast, and stump applicator.
The competing species they target are typically trembling aspen, white birch, red maple, mountain maple, beaked hazel, and to a lesser extent, raspberry, tall grass, or sedges.
“They all compete for the same nutrients that the seedlings that we planted do,” said Armstrong. “So what you’re trying to do is give the conifer a little advantage.”
He said from there, they’ll constantly monitor stands until they reach free-to-grow status.
“And once they reach free to grow, we’ve determined that the stand is successful, and it’s good to grow on its own and then we don’t touch it again,” said Armstrong. “And that’s several years down the road. So there’s constant monitoring on these all the time.”
He said the areas that BWFMC does spray are usually very small.
“In the big picture, what we’re spraying is just tiny,” he said.
Armstrong said he realizes the controversy around herbicide spraying, and said that Boundary Waters uses alternative methods wherever possible. Prescribed burns, for example, are sometimes used as a type of site treatment even though there are limitations like weather.
“When we can, that’s the way to do it,” he said.
Armstrong said the entire tending process is heavily regulated. BWFMC retains registered professional foresters to determine if tending or site preparation is required. They conduct on-the-ground walkthroughs after harvest to confirm any necessity for herbicide use.
“This isn’t just people walking around in the bush,” said Armstrong. “All the decisions they make are based on science.”
The given areas are then approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and then by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks. The site preparation work is performed by a licensed Ontario pesticide operator.
Armstrong said BWFMC usually sprays once a year in either August or September. The same is set to happen again this year.
The herbicide they currently use is GlySil Forestry Herbicide, which is registered under the Pest Control Products Act (29009). Its active ingredient is glyphosate. The branch of Health Canada responsible for pesticide regulation has approved this product for forestry use.
The Boundary Waters Forest is made up of what used to be the Crossroute and Sapawe forests after an amalgamation by Rainy Lake Tribal Resource Management and Resolute Forest Products. BWFMC took over from the two previous owners as Crown-land caretakers in April 2020.