A submarine in the forest? It makes a lot of sense.

  • Nov. 22, 2004 5:00 a.m.

By Jeff King-Submarines and forestry don’t usually mix, but the way Peter Schleifenbaum told it in Queen Charlotte last Thursday evening, it seemed pretty natural that they do.
Dr. Schleifenbaum is the owner and manager of the 25,000 hectare Haliburton Forest, about three hours north of Toronto, and he outlined his prescription for multi-use of his forest, where tourism and logging prosper side by side. He also offered a few ideas for how the two could work together here on the islands.
The story of Haliburton Forest began when Dr. S inherited it from his father and started managing it himself. Because of logging practices in the past, the best trees had already been cut down, many for use in airplanes during the second world war. Dr. S started managing the forest using different principles. Low-grading, for example, where he takes the worst trees, the opposite of what had been done previously. He plans to do this for many more years, to let the forest recover to the point where it would have been, if the best trees had not been cut before the 1970’s.
In Haliburton Forest, there’s no clear-cutting; instead, between a quarter and a third of the trees are harvested, which leaves the forest canopy intact, giving room for the remaining trees to continue growing. Indeed, an aerial view he showed of a logged area alongside with one that hadn’t made it difficult to tell which was which.
Dr. Schleifenbaum forest is the subject of numerous studies, most by his staff, since he wants to know in detail how the forest is doing. His staff studies both insects and salamanders to find out about the health of the forest-the latter, for example, are a good indicator of how moist the forest is.
Dr Schleifenbaum is also an exponent of maximizing the forest resource, turning unwanted tree species into saleable items. When a storm destroyed a part of his forest a few years ago, he ended up with some hemlock that had no market. Instead of letting it rot, he started a company that builds log cabins-now 15 a year-using the wood. He now gets over $2 per board foot for wood that was previously unmarketable.
Most of the logging is done with horses, not because it is cheaper, according to Dr. Schleifenbaum, but because horses have far less environmental impact than skidders, and provide more good employment for the area.
The horse logging operation has also turned into a tourist attraction, and Dr. Schleifenbaum and Haliburton Forest have built upon that.
Several years ago, he acquired a pack of wolves and then built a wolf interpretation centre that is well known throughout Ontario, Quebec and adjoining US states. About 30,000 people a year visit the wolf centre alone.
Visitors also flock to the forest to explore it from an elevated canopy walk, the largest in the world, 70-feet in the air. It has been called one of the premier tourist attractions in Ontario, and that’s in a province which includes Niagara Falls. Dr. Schleifenbaum packages tours so that visitors spend a half day above the trees, another half day at the wolf centre.
The forest is also popular with visitors who come to camp, and use the 300 kilometres of hiking and biking trails, watch birds, or fish in one of the 50 lakes including in the forest.
And that’s where the submarine comes it. It’s new this year and can take a half dozen tourists below the lake to view fish up close. The way Dr. Schleifenbaum explained it, it makes a lot of sense. “Thirty-percent of our landscape is covered with waterÂ…it was natural to get a submarine,” he said. He called it the ultimate educational vehicle, and is the world’s only fresh-water tour sub. Dr. Schleifenbaum expects it will be the third most popular attraction in the forest, after the wolf centre and canopy walk.
Of Haida Gwaii, Dr. Schleifenbaum said he was impressed and definitely would be coming back. He advised islanders to look more closely at what’s here, and try to find opportunities. As an example, he said he was impressed the number of eagles here, something he thought islanders might take for granted. He added that selling an eagle-viewing experience to tourists might be a good possibility. “There’s a lot of willingness to pay for the unusual experience,” he said.

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