Lori of the Rings 

A UBC expert discusses the importance of tree ring research in forest management

WHO: The Whistler Naturalists speaker series presents Dr. Lori Daniels

WHAT: Tree Rings – Reading Between the Lines

WHERE: Millennium Place

WHEN: Thursday, April 24 at 7 p.m.

"There’s a lesson to be learned there," said Dr. Lori Daniels, a tree-ring expert and geography professor at UBC.

About two years ago, Cypress Mountain decided to expand their main parking lot, and after looking around the surrounding forest, they selected and cut down a group of what appeared to be smaller trees.

Dr. Daniels, with the help of her class at UBC, went to the site to count the tree rings and discovered that the planners had cut down some of the oldest trees in the Lower Mainland. Although they were small, she counted more than 950 rings on some of the older looking trees, which means these trees were here more than 400 years before Columbus discovered America.

For Dr. Daniels, the experience underlined the importance of her research on tree rings, a relatively new science that is helping to change the way we look at managing biodiversity in one of our largest resource-based industries.

She will in Whistler on April 24 as part of the Whistler Naturalists speaker series to discuss her findings, and present some core samples from trees nearing 1,000 years old.

While everybody knows that counting tree rings can help you to date a tree, that’s not the whole story.

"They can tell you about the history of the whole forest," says Daniels. "They key is to look for anomalies in the rings, and try to predict their causes. Are there any irregular patterns to the rings, are they scarred? Has there been fire or a blowdown of other trees. Was it insects?"

Tree ring studies have also dispelled the myth that you can tell a tree’s age by its size. Some of Canada’s oldest trees, the white cedars found along the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario, are more than 1,200 years old, but are only a few feet thick.

The poor, rocky soil along the escarpment limited the growth of these, which kept the rings close together. Long winters and a layer of permafrost can have a similar effect.

By way of comparison, if rings are well spaced, you can guess that the rain, sun and soil conditions were optimal.

According to Daniels, this knowledge has a lot of practical applications. One of these applications has to do with the timber industry, and the practice of tree farming – cutting down existing trees and replanting new ones to harvest down the road. But if the original trees only grew to a modest size over hundreds of years, then it’s possible that those trees and the land are not suitable for silviculture.

By understanding how each forest works, and the natural conditions at play, tree ring science can help forest users protect and manage the biodiversity of the forest and the surrounding area for timber, wildlife, agriculture and other uses.

"It provides us with a kind of yardstick or a template that can help us determine how to best manage our forest, with minimal impacts," Daniels explains.

Daniels got into the business of counting tree rings back in university, when she was a biology student and became interested in forest ecology during widespread forestry protests around the province. Her research on tree rings has taken her across B.C. and as far as South America.

Admission is by donation.

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