White Bear Forest

The White Bear Forest was declared a conservation reserve on July 4, 1997. Of the known remaining stands of old-growth white pine forest it is the sixth largest. One of the unique things about the White Bear Forest is that you don’t need to hike into a remote area or be flown many miles to explore its depths. It is perhaps one of the most easily accessible of the remaining large stands of old-growth pine. It consists of 1242 hectares of old-growth forest with hiking trails that begin just east of Temagami.

The White Bear Forest was named after the last chief of the Teme Augama Anishnabai before Europeans arrived in the area. The northern portion of the trails was first developed by the White Bear family and other members of the Teme Augama Anishnabai: the trails were part of a portage system that passed through the heart of the forest from Snake Island Lake to Cassels Lake. It is estimated that these portages are over 3000 years old. Before the logging dam was built the water was lower than it is today. This water froze first so the First Nations people would portage their canoes along these routes in their travels.

The White Bear Forest Committee was established to work with the MNR to develop strategies to manage the existing trails and to plan the possible expansion of the trail system. It is made up of members of the community whose desire is to see the forest maintained in its current condition, as a living old-growth ecosystem that can also be enjoyed by the public.

The White Bear Forest has 28 km of trails that vary in difficulty and length for those who wish to explore them. Some portions of trail go through the very heart of the old-growth forest where there are trees up to 350 years old. That means that you couldn’t put your arms around some of them if you tried – not with a diameter of over 1 meter! Most of the trail system travels through an expanse that has never been logged, mined, or disturbed by man.

In 1928 the Gillies Bros. Logging Co. won the logging rights to 500 square kilometers of land surrounding White Bear Lake (now known as Cassels Lake) and Rabbit Lake. They did log some of the land but chose to preserve 800 hectares for the enjoyment of their employees and locals. A logging road was built from Temagami, between Cassels and Rabbit Lakes so a log dam could be built for driving saw logs to the Ottawa River. This road was built in 1920’s and is now overgrown and barely recognizable. The dam that was built raised the water by several feet in some of the lakes around Temagami. The flooded trees were logged and the stumps still remain. Apart from these few exceptions the trails available to be hiked will take you through areas that have barely been changed by man.

What is an old-growth forest and why is it such a big deal? We often think of huge, old trees when we think of ‘old-growth’. The Temagami area and the White Bear Forest in particular contain some excellent examples of such trees. However, the term means more than just old trees. It is a dynamic environment that continues to grow and change, practically untouched by man. There are large dead standing trees as well as fallen logs that create excellent habitat for wildlife. Certain species of birds and animals prefer to call this kind of forest home. There is a recycling of nutrients as the old trees die and fall to the ground and decompose, providing nutrients for other plants and trees that will grow to take their place. It is a diverse and very productive ecosystem.

The White Bear Forest contains various species of huge old trees: the white pine is the largest tree to be found in eastern North America. Its lonely windswept top is usually easy to recognize as it stands high above the canopy of surrounding trees. The red pine closely resembles the white pine but its foliage has a coarser look and its bark is reddish in colour. The black spruce is abundant in wet areas and can be recognized by its drooping lower branches. The eastern white cedar is also abundant in the lowland valleys and lakeshores, growing to an impressive size.

For more information about the White Bear Forest and old-growth forests in general go to: http://www.ancientforest.org/whitebear.html