The Logging of Russel Ridge

Mountain top clearing in Killaloe feared by Madawaska Highland residents

Note: This opinion piece was submitted for publication by Christopher Huggett, (Former) Independent  Forest Research Associate and Auditor, Temagami District, Ontario now resident in Killaloe-Hagarty-Richards.

The Wilno Hills, like the rest of the Madawaska Valley, is no stranger to logging. On the contrary the Ottawa Valley was founded on it. But clear-cutting is relatively uncommon on private land unless capital expenses such as problematic road construction and costly forestry equipment are involved.

Residents fear that the spectacular  pine ridge of Summer’s Mountain will be scarred and ancient trees lost. This follows weeks of  preparatory road construction off  Stone Church Road starting in May 2022 by Resto Logging of Golden Lake. The company anticipates trucking the logs out before winter 2022-23.  Adjacent hunt camps fear abandoned logging roads will attract unsolicited encroachment by off-road vehicles. The 375 acres scheduled for cutting, in two parcels, overlooks the Baptist Cemetery and local fairgrounds south of Mountain View Road within sight of Highway 60.

Russel Ridge on Summer’s Mountain was colloquially named after a man who live alone from the early 1960s to 1996 on top of the mountain in a 12×12 foot cabin.

Virtually untouched from the day he died over 20 years ago, his bicycle still leans against the cabin’s exterior log walls. His camp remains riddled with mid-20th century artifacts. They include a couple of 1973 licenced snowmobiles, and pre-WW2 GMC lumber trucks sprouting 20-foot trees.

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Upper Brennan’s Creek
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Russel Summers’ camp and bicycle
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Summers’ 1973 snowmobile

Some say Russel didn’t leave a will and his mother acquired his 200 acres. More recently it fell into the hands of his nephew, a successful Killaloe businessman and  a local engine mechanic / ATV, snowmobile salesman. 

The inaccessibility of the steep road and abrupt landscape, characteristic of the Wilno Hills, guaranteed  partial  preservation and discouraged anything but subsistence selective cutting. The last extensive cutting transpired in 1966-67 when some pine saw-logs and veneer were sold to the former E.D. Eddy Company of Hull, Quebec. 

Hemlocks on Russel Ridge

After this date limited amounts of cord-wood were extracted leaving the vast bastion of  inaccessible pine, oak and hemlock untouched. Natural disturbances were limited to periodic lightning strikes, and minor blow-down, especially along a  protected tributary of  Zummach Creek. Here with an abundant water source, towering ancient hemlock — some 12 feet in circumference — still  grow among the creek’s boulders. Evidence abounds of  several uncommon raptors: Red-tailed, Broad- winged and Red-shouldered Hawks.

To the mountain’s southwest another 175 acres of woodlands situated only 75 metres north of  Brennan’s Creek is scheduled to be cut by the same company within sight of Brennan Falls, a local attraction. The additional revenue generated here will help offset costly road construction.

According to a Resto company contractor the topography will necessitate the use of a feller-buncher and grapple-yarder; equipment common on the steep and inaccessible slopes of  B.C. where harvest prescriptions are predominately clear-cutting. But company owners argue the intent is only to remove beech infected by the Beech Bark Disease and any other trees of value.

Aerial photo shows subject area. Google Earth

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Renfrew County forestry regulations on private woodlots were scrapped several years ago making obsolete, among other best practices, limited quotas on lumber extraction per harvest.  Here, to turn a profit, the revenue from log sales requires unlimited deforestation to justify  building up the steep road grade with costly reconstituted asphalt and gravel.

In the late 1960s trees under 12 inches in diameter could only be cut under specified conditions such as following a disease outbreak. Renfrew County employed officers to patrol the forests. This was to protect game species and ensure a future quality wood supply for area mills. Most of us have noticed fish stocks decline and lumber dimensions shrink over the decades and this is one reason why.

However, those rules half a century ago and any subsequent revisions were rendered obsolete by an increasingly hostile electorate. That makes clear-cutting or in this instance its equivalent “high-grading” a potential reality.  Higher ambient temperatures, the risk of forest fires, flash floods, choked creeks and landslides invariably  follow with steep grades and excessively large forestry equipment.

In a region of the Ottawa Valley which prides itself on self-determination and government non-interference, Renfrew County’s  dwindling woodlands and wildlife remain vulnerable to the discretion  of private landowners, and their heirs. Beneficiaries frequently view the land as financial commodities and investments devoid of any inherent ecological, recreational or tourism potential.

This places the resident population and potential newcomers at the mercy of their neighbours’ good-will. That good-will is frequently in short supply when self-interest is touted as a virtue within the emerging context of  rural Ontario’s growing populism sub-culture. Safeguarding aesthetic values is considered incidental; brutalizing the landscape an unfortunate necessity in modern industrial logging. The legend of Russel Summers will be forgotten along with the spectacular wooded mountain he so cherished for the past half century. Sadly, his story is not unique. On the contrary, the Madawaska Highlands is slowly but surely dying by a thousand cuts as the electorate stubbornly adhere to a misdirected ideology that personal freedom trumps collective well-being.

All photos submitted

2 Comments

  1. Eve-Marie Chamot

    Oh dear, so much melodramatic prose!:-I actually used to write this stuff as a teenager and my English lit teacher really liked it but no one else could understand what I was saying so I went back to plain English.
    It would help if you could just give us a geographic co-ordinate reference so we could find it on Google maps:-this would certainly save a lot of words!
    The gist here is that the heirs of the late Russel Summers have sold the standing timber on his old homestead to Resto Logging who will then cut all the good stuff and hopefully turn a profit on it but you are not happy about this because supposedly this will lead to some sort of massive environmental catastrophe involving forest fires, flash floods, choked creeks, and landslides:-well no, this is only the Madawaska Highlands and not the Rocky Mountains or Coast Ranges and the end result will be a very stable cut-over rocky hillside underlain by the very stable metamorphic rocks of Grenvillian age (as in ~1.2 billion years old)covered with a huge amount of logging slash and an impenetrable jungle of regrown young poplar and aspen saplings which totally resist burning or much of anything else although the deer certainly like browsing on it.
    Fyi, local fish stocks and aquatic life in general has declined since the 1960s because of acid deposition from coal-fired power plants in the Ohio Valley and average log sizes have declined because they cut trees faster than they can grow and basically it’s only Algonquin Park and its professionally managed forest resources which keeps the local forest industry alive.
    Local people here need to make a decent living, just like retired civil servants like yourself, since no one wants to live in little log shanties and lead a subsistence life anymore doing “pioneer pasture farming” and the forest industry is still the mainstay of this region’s economy.
    No sir, private-property rights are not causing any problems so please give that old socialist myth a rest.
    Yes, we certainly need to explore other innovative ways to earn a living to give the forests a rest and let the big trees grow such as yak farming (no jokes please!), closed-cycle aquaculture, wood-pelleting mills, and so on but obviously that type of creative response will not come from retired civil servants.

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