Albert Hovingh – Managing the Region’s Forests
Recap by Michael Frind
Albert Hovingh, an Environmental and Stewardship Planner at the Region of Waterloo, gave an insightful talk on the management of the
Regional forest and woodland properties.
Albert began with a historical overview. He noted that the Regional Forests officially began in 1961 as a set of nine forested lands owned by
the Region but managed under the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Agreement Forest Program. This program, which had the goal of
sustainable harvesting of timber, was discontinued in 2001. The management goals were set in consultation with provincial foresters, with
MNR field staff taking care of the management work. The MNR covered the costs, and reimbursed the Region for the timber harvested. After
the demise of this program, the Region devised its own Forest Management Plan for the lands. At the same time, the Region gradually
acquired (through purchases and donations) an additional seven properties, thus bringing the total to the current 16.
In January 2002, an inventory was taken of all the forests. Details maps of forest types, wildlife, plants, existing recreational usage, and
potential property-maintenance concerns were made. In 2006, open houses were held, and input from the general public was sought. It
immediately became clear that the traditional view of forests (i.e. as a source of timber, maple syrup, and as a hunting venue) was being
superseded by more modern non-consumptive uses: passive recreational activities (hiking, birdwatching, cross-country skiing, and so on),
improvement of urban air quality, groundwater recharge, as well as ecological (plant and animal habitat). Adjacent landowners, in particular
the ever-growing numbers of suburbanites, also valued the forests for their aesthetics and enhancement of property values.
Albert noted that there is sometimes a trade-off between managing a forest for ecological health and focusing on timber production. Dead and
dying trees can be viewed as lumber awaiting a sawmill, but they can also serve as homes for a variety of animals as well as nursery logs for
young seedlings. Albert pointed out that even though one of the official goals for the Regional Forests is “timber production according to
sustainable forest management practices,” timber management for its own sake is no longer seen as an acceptable goal in publicly owned
woodlands. Today, the objectives also encompass habitat conservation, outdoor education, research, passive recreation, as well as the
preservation of natural features and functions (Carolinian forest, old growth, or forest-interior habitat). In selected areas, hunting, fishing,
equestrianism, and mountain biking are allowed, but not at the expense of passive recreation. (All recreational activities must remain non-
damaging to soil, vegetation, and forest habitat.) Further objectives include the demonstration of good forestry practices in order to promote
good woodland stewardship amongst private landowners, and to promote greater public appreciation of woodland ecosystems.
Albert noted that in addition to the management objectives, there are ecological objectives as well. These include the protection of ESPAs
(environmentally sensitive policy areas), connecting corridors, and other parts of the Natural Habitat Network. Conservation of species and
habitats representative of the area’s biodiversity, as well as protection of forest-community diversity, is also a high priority. Restoration of
suboptimal forests, for example replacement of sickly monoculture plantations with naturally diverse forests, is another key objective. Albert
noted that this was recently done at the Drynan Tract, where a Red Pine plantation was in decline. He found a low-cost contractor who was
willing to remove the these trees and send them to a highly efficient sawmill near Durham. The careful decision-making avoided what would
otherwise have been a $30,000 expenditure.
Albert noted that his annual budget is only about $20,000. This financial shoestring means that some capital projects must be extended over
several years. A case in point is the boardwalk at the Sudden Tract. This long, winding wooden structure has long been a favourite with
hikers, and its function in outdoor education is clear as well. Unfortunately, rotting wood planks necessitated closure until reconstruction could
be made. Albert partnered with a contractor who enjoys his work and is willing to do the work for little more than the cost of the materials.
Albert keeps abreast of ecological research and case histories of ecological restorations in other jurisdictions, and he notes that eradication of
introduced invasive species is important to preservation of long-term forest integrity. Garlic Mustard and Buckthorn are unwelcome aliens in
any forest, but lasting success in removal remains elusive. Invasives can sometimes pose safety hazards too: Giant Hogweed, an attractive but
phytotoxic flowering plant (the sap causes third-degree burns on sunlight-exposed skin, with chronic effects), appeared at one property and was
promptly removed. In this case, safety and legal-liability concerns necessitated urgent action.
Albert proceeded to describe an especially intriguing case study: the Petersburg Tract, the Waterloo Landfill Forest, and the nearby powerline
corridor. This area, located on the boundary of Kitchener and Waterloo and extending into Wilmot Township, was long a favourite spot for
nature hiking and birdwatching. But starting in the 1990s, unbidden incursions of extreme mountain bikers brought serious cumulative
damage. Albert showed frightening photographs of bike jumps and other worrisome contraptions, then chronicled how the site was gradually
transformed into something that is once again welcoming for naturalists and hikers.
Albert’s first step was the removal of all bike-stunt structures, with ongoing follow-up to prevent recurrence of the nightmare. A formal
stewardship agreement with the Waterloo Cycling Club was put into place in 2009. Foremost among the conditions of usage was that no
extreme-style activities take place on Regional land. Albert noted that his goal was to confine non-extreme mountain-biking to this one
particular site and to control it so as to prevent dangerous versions from reappearing, rather than to have this sport spread to other Regional
Although cycling is a wonderfully efficient and environmentally friendly mode of transportation, having bicycles in forests brings a problem:
their rate of movement is much faster than a person on foot. Kinetic energy increases linearly with mass but, more importantly, with speed
squared. A cyclist thus has far more kinetic energy than a hiker. Each time the bicycle brakes or changes direction, this kinetic energy must be
managed in the form of cornering forces which are exerted on the path surface. This results in erosion concerns.
Another problem with opening the Petersburg Tract to mountain biking is that the number of wheeled people using the area has grown, and will
continue to grow. Indeed, erosion is already starting to become a problem in some areas. Concerns are likely to increase as the population of
the area grows, including the conversion of nearby prime farmland into vast expanses of subdivisions. The area is also popular with people
from outside the Region.
Today, the area is open equally to both hikers and cyclists, and signage to this effect makes this clear. Like all of the Regional Forests, the
land remains home to a delightful variety of wildlife, and remains relatively quiet during daytime hours each weekday.
Albert noted that most Regional forests are open to general public use, including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. These lands are ideal
for birdwatching and photography as well. Of the forested natural lands owned by the Region, the following are open for passive recreation
(hiking, birdwatching, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing): Dean’s Lake, Drynan and Sudden Tracts, and Hillborn Knoll (in North Dumfries);
Gibney, Townline, Walker Woods, Petersburg Tract, Waterloo Landfill Forest (in Wilmot, with the latter straddling the Waterloo city limits),
Sandy Hill (north of Elmira), and Macton (west of Elmira). Maps can be found on the Region’s website at www.region.waterloo.on.ca.
Questions regarding specific properties, including queries about species observations, can be directed to Albert.
Sincere thanks to Albert Hovingh for his penetrating insight into the complexities of managing the Region of Waterloo’s collection of forests.