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Facts on Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss

    History

    • Peat has been used for thousands of years, primarily as fuel, with recorded use in Ireland dating from the seventh century. Canadian peat harvesting started in earnest in the 1940s, and is almost exclusively for horticultural purposes. Unlike many countries, as of 2001 no peat in Canada was harvested for fuel use, according to the North American Wetlands Conservation Committee report "Canadian Peat Harvesting and the Environment." In 1999, Sphagnum peat represented 99.9 percent of the volume and 99.3 percent of the dollar value of peat products exported to the United States.

    Harvesting

    • Canadian peat is harvested by clearing bogs of vegetation, then digging ditches to lower the peatland's water table. Once the water level has dropped so equipment can operate on the site and the peat has dried, tractors are brought on the land and the top layer is harrowed. Once this layer dries, it is vacuumed into harvesters and delivered to a processing plant for screening, grading, and baling. The CSPMA points out that the total Canadian peat harvesting area used during the past 70 years totals 42,000 acres.

    Renewing bogs

    • A 2008 article in "Natural Life Magazine" questioned the ability to renew peat moss bogs to their former natural state, because "these peatlands tend toward monoculture, lacking the biodiversity of an unharvested bog." CSPMA President Paul Short pointed out in a 2008 "Big Grower" article that bog restoration includes spreading sphagnum fragments on the restoration site. The fragments are gathered from the top of a natural bog and contain seeds or spores from all the natural bog plants, including sphagnum moss.

    Restoration research

    • Canadian peatland restoration projects are aimed at bringing back a working peat bog and peatland ecosystem. Bog restoration research began in 1992. By 2008, more than 2,700 acres were undergoing restoration. In one study begun in 1999, by year five there was a great diversity of flora and fauna, with a sphagnum moss mean thickness of 25 centimeters. This growth rate compares to one millimeter per year cited by the United Kingdom's Environment and Heritage Service discussion of peat milling issues.

    Potential

    • Canadian peat bogs can be harvested for fifteen to 50 years. An estimated 70 million tons of new Canadian peat accumulates each year, with annual processing of slightly more than one million tons. When feasible, in addition to bringing ecological diversity back to farmed sites, pre-restoration planning and drainage design can return the land back to a peatlands condition.

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