Which came first, the tree or the seed? Tree seed is an important part of forest renewal in Ontario; however, we frequently take for granted this essential element of silviculture.
Seeds of Renewal
Which came first, the tree or the seed? Tree seed is an important part of forest renewal in Ontario; however, we frequently take for granted this essential element of silviculture. Ontario used over 1 billion conifer seeds in 2006 for treeplanting and seeding operations, which is certainly no small number. In spite of the importance of conifer seed in forest renewal and the large number of seed used annually, the operations associated with collecting and providing quality seed in a timely and efficient manner usually go unnoticed. The economic downturn may lead to increased use of lower cost forest renewal techniques such as seeding, putting more pressure on cone and seed collection operations. In addition, long-term issues associated with climate change and seed source may also require greater attention to cone and seed collection operations.
The forest land base in Ontario is divided into a number of Sustainable Forest Licences (SFLs). Since the mid-1990s SFL managers have been responsible for conducting all forest renewal operations, which includes maintaining an adequate inventory of quality seed for forest renewal. The use of seed in forest renewal must follow provincial guidelines on seed zones and seed transfer. Separate seed banks for each seed zone are managed by each SFL. For many SFLs, the seed used for growing seedlings for treeplanting operations originates from seed orchards (i.e. improved seed), which are part of cooperative tree improvement programs. In addition, each SFL must also organize the collection of conifer seed to meet the demand for all other conifer renewal operations from uncontrolled seed sources, such as natural stands.
While treeplanting receives most of the attention when we think of conifer renewal, considerably more seed is used in seeding operations in Ontario. Renewal from seeding in Ontario consists mainly of aerial seeding, also referred to as direct seeding, or seeding with site preparation. Aerial seeding is by far the more common method of seeding, especially in Northwestern Ontario. Roughly 80% of the seed used on an annual basis in Ontario is used in seeding operations, and 20% is needed to produce seedlings used in treeplanting. In 2006, over 870 million conifer seeds were used in seeding operations of which 5% were jack pine seed. For the 5-year period from 2001 to 2005, seeding operations were used to renew over 23,000 ha per year on average. Therefore, seeding operations make up a significant amount of conifer renewal in Ontario, and collecting the seed is an essential component.
"Tree seed is an important part of forest renewal... we frequently take for granted this essential element of silviculture."
Cone collection operations across Ontario require a mobile and largely rural labour force in order to collect over 7,000 hl (hectolitres) of conifer cones per year. SFL managers may elect to coordinate cone collection operations directly or they may work with a local silviculture contractor to coordinate the operations. Those coordinating the operations attempt to develop long-term relationships with local cone collectors to ensure the efficient collection of high quality cones and seeds from appropriate sources. Forest companies and silviculture contractors may also require cone collectors to participate in training courses prior to obtaining permission to collect cones.
The collection of high quality conifer seed is an important part of forest renewal, especially in Northwestern Ontario. Having an efficient cone and seed collection program not only makes economic sense, especially during the current economic conditions, but it may also be of increased importance if climate change results in modifications to seed transfer and seed zone guidelines in the future.