Paul Short, president of the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA), wrote a letter Aug. 10 to Susan Rieff, executive director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in response to the creation of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES). To download the full SITES report to which Short is responding, visit www.sustainablesites.org/report. Short’s letter is as follows:
The work of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanical Garden in the creation of the Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmark 2009, and “The Case for Sustainable Landscapes” document is an important contribution to the advancement of sustainable land practices. It is because of this importance that issues of resource use and management that are stated or implied in the documents need to be correct.
The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmark 2009 have two areas related to peat, 5.9 Support Sustainable Practices in Plant Production and 7.2 Restore Soils Disturbed During Construction.
On Page 136, Point 5.9 under, “Requirements,” it states that 90 percent of purchased plants need to come from businesses that employ at least six of the eight practices listed. One of these, Use of Sustainable Soil Amendments relates to not using peat.
Page 136, Point 5.9: Sustainable practices in plant production for this credit include: 1. Use sustainable soil amendments. Use peat-free planting media or other sustainable sources.
On Page 173, Point 7.2 there is the inclusion under Organic Matter that explicitly states that for restoring soils you are not to use peat or organic amendments that contain sphagnum peat.
Page 173, Point 7.2: 1. Organic matter: Achieve appropriate organic matter for plant growth. … Do not use sphagnum peat or organic amendments that contain sphagnum peat.
While the reason for these considerations is not stated there is an implication that questions the sustainability of peatland harvesting, renewal of harvested sites and impact on climate change. This was confirmed at the recent Seeley Conference during the presentation by Dr. Steve Windhager on the SSI Guidelines.
The document, “The Case for Sustainable Landscapes,” stated clearly that the guidelines were “grounded on rigorous science.” In keeping with this foundation the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA), which represents the peat producers of Canada, presents the following information on peat and peatland management.
Sustainably Managed Peatlands
As a user of a biological resource our industry is subject to the same principles of sustainable resource use, regulatory control and monitoring that other renewable natural resource values are subject to. In Canada, peatlands cover approximately  million acres. To help put this into perspective, all the bogs in Canada would cover the four western states (Washington, Oregon, California and New Mexico), and the size of the peat harvesting industry is less than the area covered by the city of Portland, Ore.
The Canadian peat harvesting area used during the past 70 years is in total only 42,000 acres.
A key measure of resource sustainability is the rate of harvest to natural ecosystems production. Within Canada over 70 million tonnes of peat accumulate each year. Of this, the sphagnum peat moss industry harvests 1.3 million tonnes. (Source: Canadian Peat Harvesting and the Environment; Second Edition, Issues Paper, No. 2001-1, North American Wetlands Conservation Council, Statistics Canada, 2005.)
Clearly, based on the above information, the commercial use of sphagnum peat moss by the Canadian horticultural peat industry does not represent overharvesting or resource depletion beyond the natural resiliency of the peatland resource.
Restoration & Reclamation Of Peatlands:
The members of the CSPMA adhere to the strict guidelines in the Preservation and Reclamation Policy established by the association. This policy includes:
– Identifying bogs for preservation.
–Leaving buffer zones of original vegetation to encourage natural succession after harvesting.
–Leaving a layer of peat below harvesting levels to encourage rapid regrowth.
–Returning harvested bogs either to functioning ecosystems, forests, wildlife habitats or agricultural production areas.
The industry has committed to a restoration program that returns the peatlands to functioning wetland ecosystems. We recognize that peatland functions provide water storage and filtration, support flora and fauna biodiversity, and act as carbon storage sites.
Understanding these functional relationships and determining the best practices for restoration and reclamation has been at the center of the jointly funded research program, supporting the Industrial Chair in Peatland Management housed at Université Laval, Québec City, Québec, Canada. The CSPMA has been a major funding partner together with the Governments, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Université Laval. Close to $4 million has been provided to date and there is a commitment for the next four years to advance the research needs for peatlands with an estimated additional funding of a further $4 million.
The results of the research are significantly changing the practices of not only Canadian peat companies but have been introduced throughout the world through the work of the Industrial Chair, Dr. Line Rochefort. The Peatland Ecology Research Group (www.gret-perg.ulaval.ca) is an excellent source as well as the CSPMA website for information on restoration.
The success of the research has shown that by following the restoration steps on sphagnum bogs, that within five years following completion of harvest the Sphagnum has accumulated four to eight inches in depth, the pitcher plants are fully developed and birds, animals and amphibians have started to return to the bog.
Our industry does not claim that it can return the full natural capital of the pristine bog within any normative human timeline measurement. It can and does ensure that the natural ecosystems processes are in place that in time will provide the full natural capital. This is in keeping with other sustainable natural resource management practices.
The CSPMA commissioned an independent report by J. P. Cagampan and Dr. M. Strack, University of Calgary, entitled “Peatland Disturbance and Climate Change: What is the role of Canada’s horticultural peat industry.” The following is a direct reference from the document:
Page 8, File: Climate Change Peatland Disturbance (2008): “The peat horticultural industry in Canada represents relatively small emissions compared to total peatland disturbances globally. Canadian peat horticultural emissions (0.89 Mt CO2-e) represent 0.03 percent of emissions for all degraded peatlands (3 Gt CO2-e) worldwide. Moreover, emissions are 0.006 percent of all total global net anthropogenic emissions (15.7 Gt CO2-e).
The Canadian horticulture industry is supporting and working with Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) in the development of a certification system as part of the Veriflora Standard. The Veriflora Certification for Responsible Peatland Management; Requirements for Producers and Handlers; Sector Specific Annex: Horticultural Peat Moss is currently in the final review stage and it is anticipated that peat producer companies will be seeking certification this fall.
In summary, I thank you for the opportunity to present the resource facts and science behind the activities of the Canadian horticultural peat industry in our sustainable management of peatlands. I would encourage the Sustainable Sites Initiative authors to consider revising the documents related to the use of horticultural peat products.
Paul Short, President