Putting Triad Forestry Into Practice: An interview with Christian Messier

This is the fourth report on functional zoning and the triad model of forest management based on interviews with experts in the field. My previous interviews with Dr. Bob Seymour and Dr. Clark Binkley focused on the history and theory of triad forestry and functional zoning while the last interview with Dr. Matt Betts discussed the future of triad forestry on the Elliot State Experimental Forest. For this final article I interviewed Dr. Christian Messier who was pivotal in implementing triad management on nearly 1 million hectares of land in Quebec, Canada.

Dr. Messier is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) where he studies silvicultural factors that influence temperate and boreal forest ecosystems. He has led the Sustainable Forest Management Network, co-founded the Integrated Quebec Intensive Silviculture Network and was a past director of the Centre for Forest Research. In 2003, Dr. Messier began working to implement triad forestry on an 890,000 ha Forest Management Unit in the Mauricie, central Quebec, Canada. At that time virtually all work on triad forestry had been theoretical. Under Dr. Messier’s leadership and a multi-year, multi-stakeholder process, triad forestry became the foundation for the Unit’s management plan in 2008 (Messier et al., 2009).

According to Dr. Messier, triad forestry is a way to promote more protected areas and more extensive “softer” types of silviculture focused on multiple ecosystem services and functions. In triad forest management part of the forest landscape is dedicated to protected reserves, part to intensive wood production and the third part to ecosystems management for multiple benefits. Forest managers have historically been hesitant to have more protected areas because they were concerned that they would not meet wood demand, but when Dr. Messier heard about the triad system that Bob Seymour and Mac Hunter were proposing in the early 2000’s, he thought it may be a way to assuage concerns about fiber supply and meet conservation goals. So, he started talking to people about it.

Caption: The three zones of the Mauricie TRIAD project (Conservation, Ecological Management, and Wood Production). Note that the orange in the Wood Production zone is hybrid larch, the needles of which turn colour in the fall before the drop. Photos courtesy of Claude Beauchesne (Ecosystem Management), Jean Girard (Wood Production), and Nadyre Beaulieu (Conservation). Figure from Tittler and Messier (2009).

First, he reached out to private timber companies that were managing Quebec’s public forest resource at the time, then he began meeting with local stakeholder and the government. “The more I spoke with different groups, the more support I found,” claimed Dr. Messier. The problem was that forest policy at the time prohibited some of the intensive silviculture needed to make the triad work. Fortunately, Dr. Messier was able to convince the government to issue a regulatory exemption for the pilot project. Through simulations, Dr. Messier and his colleagues were able to demonstrate that 11% of the Management Unit could be placed into protected reserves without compromising the wood supply if more intensive silviculture was practices on 20% of the forest already being utilized for timber production. “The company also found that it was cheaper for them to managed under the triad project,” notes Dr. Messier. The trial project worked out so well that in 2013, Quebec adopted the triad as part of its new forestry law.

“The Company also found that is was cheaper for them to manage under the triad project.”

After all these years working with the triad model, Dr. Messier’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned. “I started this almost 15 years ago and I am surprised it has aged well. Sometimes my ideas change about the value of things, but not the [triad].” However, that doesn’t mean that Dr. Messier believes there isn’t room for improvement. Despite helping to implement a working operational example of triad, Dr. Messier says he, “never really [experimentally] tested the triad on a landscape in the field, everything…was with simulation.” That is why he got excited when he reviewed the proposed plan for the Eliot State forest. “With the Eliot [researches] can start to [empirically] test different ideas of the triad which I think is absolutely necessary and exciting.”

One particularly aspect of the triad Dr. Messier believes needs to be tested is the role of reserves. “Global change is changing our forests so much that I am critical of emulating [historical] natural disturbance,” he says. “The reserves may not be the forest we want to compare to. Reserves may be losing biodiversity and resilience. Now, I believe that a lot of our protected areas are not resilient to global change and I am in favor of doing some low intensity management to increase functional diversity in protective areas.”

“Now I believe that a lot of our protected areas are not resilient to global change and I am now in favor of doing some low intensity management to increase functional diversity in protected areas.”

This year is the 30th anniversary of the triad model for forest management. The resilience of the concept in the forestry lexicon speaks to the power the idea has to capture the imagination of policy makers and foresters. If anything, the impact of triad forestry has only grown; in the last three years triad was adopted as the management scheme for all the Crown land in Nova Scotia and the central theme of a proposal for the world’s largest research forest. But, if I have learned anything from the experts I’ve spoken with, it is this: There is no simple solutions to sustainably delivering the diverse demands society places on forest ecosystems. We must remain humble about our ability to predictively manipulate these complex systems, continuously strive to improve, and adapt to unprecedented global change and perpetually evolving societal norms. Triad forest management is just one promising option. One that I look forward to seeing tested and implemented.

Austin Himes, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Forestry at Mississippi State University where he teaches and conducts research. His research is focused on silviculture, forest ecology, ecosystem services, and environmental values. He is interested in understanding interactions between forests and people through an interdisciplinary lens and finding ways silviculture can be used to improve the many ways forests benefit people. He and Adam Polinko, Ph.D., run the Silviculture at MS State lab, which you can follow on Twitter @silviculture or find them on Facebook.

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