Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve

By Clarke Birchard with assistance from Mark Cressman

Krug Brothers Furniture Company

In 1886 the Krug Brothers Furniture Company was established in Chesley and operated for 101 years until closing in 1987. The property now comprising the Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve consists of several parcels of land assembled over several years. In 1899 a farm with standing timber on it was purchased near the pioneer hamlet of Kinghurst, in Sullivan Township, Grey County, 16 km east of Chesley. Other parcels were added until 600 acres had been assembled. The primary purpose of these and other forested properties acquired by the Krug Bros. Furniture Co. throughout Grey and Bruce Counties was to supply hardwood timber for the furniture factory in Chesley.

According to “A Century of Excellence, the History of Krug Bros. & Co., Furniture Manufacturers”, Krugs recognized the need for a long-term source of lumber and were aware of the fires that had devastated the forests of the Bruce Peninsula. For these reasons they chose to selectively cut their forests and avoid the accumulation of discarded debris, tops and wood chips which were subject to catching fire from lightning and other causes.

Plantations at Kinghurst

At Kingurst, an area of about 40 acres was planted in the northeast part of the property as well as a few smaller areas at other locations. About 3,000 trees were planted on the 40-acre parcel in the spring of 1931 under the supervision of Howard Krug. Red Pine was the main species with smaller numbers of White Pine and some experimental species such as Red Oak and Black Walnut. Red Pine was chosen because as a young forestry student at the University of Toronto in 1924, Howard had visited the St. Williams Forestry Station and Tree Nursery and had been very impressed.

Kinghurst Becomes a Nature Reserve

Howard Krug graduated in 1926 with a degree in forestry from the University of Toronto, at the top of the class and joined the family company. He became the chief executive officer in 1941, an office that he held until the company closing in 1987. Howard had a reputation for being ahead of his time in the management of the Krug woodlots. He understood and practiced the concept of sustainable yield.

Nature was always a keen interest of Howard and Bruce Krug. Beginning in the 1930s the brothers built and erected bluebird nest boxes, banded thousands of birds on the islands along the Lake Huron shore, were instrumental in having Chantry Island designated as a migratory bird sanctuary and helped build the Bruce Trail from Dyers Bay to Tobermory. Howard was a charter member of the Bruce Trail Association, life member of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (now Ontario Nature) and a founding member of the Saugeen Field Naturalists.

Of the many properties owned by the Krugs, Kinghurst was one of Howard’s favourites because of the big trees, old growth features and richness of wildflowers, birds and other wildlife. He wanted Kinghurst to become a nature reserve and remain as a place where the people of Ontario could enjoy and learn about nature. Following his death in 1987, two parcels of land – the 500-acre Krug South and 100-acre Krug North parcels were bequeathed / donated to the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (F.O.N.), now Ontario Nature.

F.O.N. purchased an additional 100-acre pasture farm and recreational property, called the Harrison Tract on the accompanying map, to connect the two Krug parcels and create a unified 700-acre nature reserve. Shortly thereafter, the Saugeen Field Naturalists signed a stewardship agreement with ON and became the official local stewards of the reserve.

Stewardship Activities

Since taking over the stewardship of the reserve, SFN has had a Stewardship Committee that meets each spring with staff of ON to plan and coordinate the activities for the coming field season, decide who does what, who budgets for what, etc. In the last 12 years SFN members along with the Ontario Stewardship Rangers, Volunteers for Nature and other groups have carried out numerous improvements on the property. That will be a topic for another newsletter article.

About the year 2000, Mark Cressman, drew to the attention of the Stewardship Committee, the need for ecological restoration of the 40-acre conifer plantation in the northeast part of the reserve. A proposal was developed and presented to Ontario Nature. It was reviewed and approved by the ON nature reserves committee, the science and conservation committee and finally by the board of directors. Lands and Forests Consulting marked the trees for an ecological thinning in 2002. For various reasons, the recommended first thinning did not take place. It is now 8 years later and thinning is even more urgent.

In September of 2010 the plantation was re-examined by Dave Taylor of Lands and Forests Consulting, Mark Carabetta Conservation Science Manager for Ontario Nature, and members of the SFN Kinghurst Stewardship Committee. It was agreed that it is important to begin the process of ecological restoration of the plantation as soon as possible.

Starting the Restoration of the Pine Plantation

As explained in another article in this newsletter, it was intended that conifer plantations in southern Ontario, planted from the 1940s to the 1960s, be thinned at appropriate intervals and in many cases, including Kinghurst, thinning has not been done.

The thinning prescription developed by L&F Consulting for ON / SFN for Kinghurst is based on the following objectives and rationale:

•Remove about 30% of the stand. This will allow light and moisture to stimulate growth on the forest floor, of seeds and seedlings already there or which could be planted in future.

•Protect healthy White Pines.

•Protect wildlife trees with nests, cavities or evidence of roosts, etc.

•Protect deciduous hardwood and softwood trees in the under-story. Once released, these will become the next generation of forest on the site.

•Remove seriously diseased trees that may put healthy trees at risk or be subject to blow-down.

•Protect and leave buffers around wetlands and existing clearings.

•Create three small clearings of about one-half acre each where hardwood species can be encouraged or planted. Locate these in areas where limestone sclerosis is killing or having a detrimental effect on the Red Pine.

•Cedar stands are not to be marked for removal.

•Maintain a clear central trail from the main plantation entrance to the hardwoods forest to the west, as a walking trail for visitors.

This project will be an opportunity to demonstrate an ecologically responsible method of thinning overcrowded and sometimes diseased plantations and be a model for others to follow that may wish to restore plantation sites to more natural forest communities. When completed, the site can host educational tours for naturalists clubs, landowners groups, woodlot associations, etc. that are interested in ecologically responsible techniques for restoring plantations.

The project will also provide an opportunity for research such as the documentation of the order and rate at which trees, shrubs and ground cover species regenerate.

The risks of not thinning are blow-downs (the most unpleasant) and spread of diseases such as red pine (limestone) sclerosis. There is already a section of red pine in this plantation that is dead from red pine/limestone sclerosis. One of the proposed small clearings includes the area affected by disease. It is next to the secondary upland maple-beech forest to the west that will be a source of seed for natural regeneration of the clearing.

Ontario Nature has erected signs explaining the project to those who drive by or visit the site.

Other Similar Projects

Thinning in the Hendry Tract and others in Simcoe County has been very successful. The maples, ashes and cherries are already 4 to 6 meters high in the openings and new ground cover is developing. A somewhat similar stand to the Kinghurst plantation, located at nearby Welbeck Sawmill, was thinned about 10 years ago and the thinning supervised by L&F Consulting.  The owners are very pleased with the results and were impressed with the work of L&F Consulting and the logging company that they contracted for the work.

Ontario Nature has had plantations thinned on two other nature reserves – Cawthra-Mulock Reserve near Newmarket and Willoughby Reserve near Caledon. The natural regeneration is already underway in those locations.

It is important for SFN members and others to understand that the site will look somewhat messy after each thinning. Some observers and some landowners may want their sites to look neat and tidy when finished. The blanket of evergreen needles has been accumulating on the site for over 60 years. It is almost impossible for seeds of other species to germinate and grow up through that thick layer of needles that decompose very slowly.

The shallow ruts and moderate disturbance caused by logging equipment stirs up the layer of needles and the soil beneath them. This has two effects. It releases the seeds that have lain dormant for years under the thatch of needles and provides a more hospitable environment for new seeds brought into the area from the nearby forest by wind, birds, squirrels and mice.

The anticipated long-term outcome of the thinning is that the plantation will return to a mixed upland hardwood forest similar to those on other parts of the reserve and to the condition that existed prior to settlement, land clearing and farming of the area. It should be noted, however, that it is highly unlikely that the replacement forest will be identical to the original forest since the soil and growing conditions now are very different than what existed 150 or so years ago.

SFN members are encouraged to visit the area prior to, during and after the thinning.

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