In the mid-1980s in Manitoba, there was a growing interest in managing privately owned forests or woodlots. It gave rise to the Woodlot Association of Manitoba (WAM) a non-profit, membership-driven corporation, which registered on September 26, 1991. The Manitoba Christmas Tree Growers Association (MCTGA) was formed in 1987. Both associations were supported by the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation and the Manitoba Forestry Association (MFA). These non-profit organizations prepared woodlot management plans with private forest owners, distributed incentives for planting and maintenance of woodlots, and offered programs such as Walk and Talk farm woodlot visits, drawing on funds from the 1990-1995 Canada-Manitoba Partnership Agreement in Forestry. Forestry Canada and the Manitoba Forestry Branch were also supporting private woodlot operations.*
In 1991, Manitoba forest resources received an injection of $30 million over five years under the Canada-Manitoba agreement, with funding going to forestry projects on aboriginal lands, a woodlot program, developing a forest resource database, research, public education, and a continuation of the reforestation program that had started in 1984.
At the time WAM was founded, privately owned forested land covered an estimated one-million hectares, about seven percent of the productive forested land in Manitoba, most of it in southern Manitoba. Although woodlot management was in its infancy in 1991, it was relatively common in Quebec, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada. In 1989, the product output of woodlots across the nation was worth $4 billion to Canada’s economy.
In 1991, Ken Fosty was hired as a Woodlot Extension Officer by the MFA to help develop and implement a woodlot program in Manitoba. The MFA, WAM and the Christmas Tree Growers were all involved in developing program criteria and implementing the program. The primary objective of the Woodlot Program was to promote land stewardship, and to help landowners realize the potential of their wooded properties in meeting their personal goals, particularly through management plans.
By 2003, nearly 700 woodlot owners were actively involved in on-going management plans through the Woodlot Program, covering nearly 63,000 acres of forested land in 54 Manitoba municipalities. Representatives from Manitoba Conservation, Manitoba Forestry Association, Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, Manitoba Christmas Tree Growers Association and WAM were meeting regularly to discuss the Woodlot Program and to share information. The meetings were a forum for them to present pertinent program information, upcoming meeting and conference schedules, and also to allow them to participate in brainstorming on new program ideas. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) ran a woodlot management program as well, complementing the MFA program.
Along with advising on the Woodlot Program, WAM played an important role educating and informing its members. With a modest budget, WAM partnered with organizations such as the Manitoba Forestry Association, Interlake School Division, Ducks Unlimited, Pineland Forest Nursery and industry representatives such as Wood-Mizer Canada, to host field days and tours. In 2003, WAM field days and tours were routinely drawing attendance of 40-50 participants (about 20 percent of its membership). This kind of initiative proved to be particularly helpful for landowners, particularly those with little knowledge of silviculture or who were unsure of the benefits of planting trees on their land. Such programs have provided important synergies to government programs, by helping landowners see the value of planting trees on their land.**
As part of its mandate to inform and educate members, WAM started publishing The Manitoba Woodlot in 1992. The newsletter continues, with funding support from the Manitoba Forestry Association. The bi-monthly newsletter provides news for its members, along with program information, notices of events, and informative features on how woodlot owners are managing their particular enterprises. The Summer 2013 issue of The Manitoba Woodlot marked the 100th issue.
In 2011, Ken Fosty retired from the MFA Woodlot Program. At that point, more than 1300 of Manitoba’s woodlot owners had participated in developing woodlot management plans, covering 105,000 acres of forested land.
In 2012, the Manitoba government shut down the MAFRI-Woodlot Program as a cost-saving measure, leaving MFA’s woodlot program the only one operating in the province. The MFA undertook a significant restructuring of the management plan component of the program, and in 2013, introduced the Private Land Resource Planning as a more sophisticated and hi-tech replacement. WAM considers the new management plan to be one of the best in the country.
Nationally, in 2013, nearly 500,000 families own private forests or woodlots in Canada, representing 19-million hectares of land or nearly nine percent of Canada’s forested lands.
* State of the Environment Reports, http://www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/annual-reports/soe-reports/soe93/forest.html
**For more details, see Roy Gilsenan’s 2003 report for Natural Resources Canada, The Feasibility Assessment of Afforestation for Carbon Sequestration (FAACS) Incentives to Expand Forest Cover: A Framework for Canada.