By Terry Belke
Of the almost 750 million acres of forest in the U.S., only about 3.5 million acres (or 6-percent), are considered old growth.
COOKSBURG PA — Old growth forests in North America are very rare. It’s estimated that of the almost 750 million acres of forest in the U.S., only about 3.5 million acres are considered old growth forests, and scientists have been debating for years on how to define them.
Cook Forest Environmental Education Specialist Dale Luthringer explains, “I think the best definition that I’ve seen so far is you’re trying to get a certain number of trees in the forest that pre-date the lumber history for that area.”
Cook Forest in Northwest P.A. was founded in 1927, and Luthringer says it’s considered one of the finest stands of old growth White Pine and Hemlock in the United States.
“By far, the ancient White Pine and the Hemlock is really what sets Cook Forest apart,” he says. “In terms of tall White Pine, we’ve got three White Pine that are in the hundred and seventy foot class. Our tallest Hemlock is just shy of a hundred and fifty feet, it’s about a hundred and forty eight feet tall.”
But this forest is not special only for the immense height of it’s trees. These towering sentries are truly ancient.
“Our oldest Hemlocks and Pines are around three hundred and fifty years old,” says Luthringer. “We have White Oak and Chestnut Oak that are approaching that, that we’ve got actual ring data, three thirty plus. The oldest known tree in the woods is actually a Cucumber Tree […] it’s on the ground now, but it’s the oldest known Cucumber Tree to science. That tree was about four hundred and forty years old.”
When the park was founded it was an effort to protect this unique environment from the ravages of the timber industry. Now almost a century later, park management must defend the Hemlocks from a new destructive force.
The invasive insect Hemlock Wooly Adelgid was discovered in Cook Forest in 2013. The tiny insect can kill trees within four to 10 years of infestation, and is ravaging forests across North America. Fortunately for the Cook Forest Hemlocks, the park was prepared for the invaders, and have been successful in protecting the cherished trees.
By Andy Newman
Though it appears destructive, fire in the New Jersey Pinelands is a force of renewal.
On April 22, a spring wildfire roared through Penn State Forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, sending 100-foot flames shooting from the crowns of the pitch pines. The fire consumed half a square mile in 40 minutes and could be seen from space. By the time the New Jersey Forest Fire Service got it under control, it had burned 843 acres, an area the size of Central Park.
A week later, even as ash still swirled through air heavy with the creosote scent of burned resin and a cedar log smoldered at the edge of a swamp, the forest was being reborn. Pine cones that open only under extreme heat had released their seeds. Though the trees themselves were charred, almost all survived the fire. Where chest-high blueberry and huckleberry had burned down to pointy stubs, tufts of grass were sprouting.
Destructive fires in the West dominated the news this summer, but for eons fire has been not just an inevitable feature of the landscape, but essential to the forest’s health and continuity. In the vast wilderness of the Pine Barrens, the forest regenerates so fast that scientists studying the physics of fire use it as a laboratory.
Eleven weeks after the fire in Penn State Forest, at the height of summer’s greening, new blueberry bushes were already shin high. A grass that flowers only after fire had put forth purple-brown seeds. And scattered all through the fire site, bursts of bright-green pitch-pine needles grew straight out of scorched trunks.
by Area Forester Manij Upadhyay
About a year ago, I transitioned from working in the Department of Forests in Nepal as a forest officer to the Virginia Department of Forestry. Here, I want to share some information about the community forest management system of Nepal, which is the most common practice.
Nepal is a beautiful landlocked country with a total population of 28.98 million people. The country covers a total of 56,827 sq. miles of land, which is approximately 40.4 percent forested.
The country is divided into three major geographic regions: the High Himalayas, the Middle Hills and the Lowland Terai. The elevation ranges from 230 feet above sea level to 29,028 feet. Two-thirds of the population live in the rural areas of Nepal and depend on agriculture and forestry for their daily livelihood. In these rural communities, firewood is the major source of energy to cook food. Also, rural people have to cut, collect and carry their firewood and livestock’s fodder and bedding materials from nearby forests.
By Mark Johnson
This huge yet little-known South American wilderness is under threat. But plans to turn it into a sustainable tourism hub will help protect its people and wildlife.
In the far north of Argentina lies a vast and extremely hot lowland known as the Gran Chaco. Were you to find yourself in it, as I did, you might kayak across a lily-filled lagoon and stumble into a solitary mansion peeking out above an endless sea of green.
It was here, at Estancia La Fidelidad, that eccentric rancher Manuel Roseo lived until 2011, when he was brutally murdered by criminals hoping to take his large (and little-touched) property. Thanks to the quick actions of Argentinian conservationists, provincial officials and the federal government, that tragedy had a silver lining with the birth of a new national park that could just shine a light on a forgotten South American wilderness.
El Impenetrable national park opened to the public in August 2017, following a telenovela’s worth of drama that included not only Roseo’s murder but the hunt for his missing heirs and a long legal battle to expropriate his land. At 128,000 hectares, it’s now the largest national park in northern Argentina and a beacon of hope for the entire Gran Chaco, which fans out into Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil (where it is connected to the Pantanal region) and is South America’s second-largest forest ecosystem after the Amazon.
While the Amazon has become a rallying cry for environmentalists, the bulbous silk floss trees, towering cacti and bushy bramble of the Chaco are disappearing in relative silence. Never as well-known – or as protected – as the Amazon, the Chaco is fast becoming the domain of cattle ranches and soya farms.
By Adrian Higgins
A pear seedling selection named Bradford was cloned by the gazillion to become the ubiquitous street tree of America’s postwar suburban expansion. Then it turned invasive.
Carole Bergmann pulls her small parks department SUV into an aging 1980s subdivision in Germantown, Md., and takes me to the edge of an expansive meadow. A dense screen of charcoal-gray trees stands between the open ground and the backyards of several houses. The trees are callery pears, the escaped offspring of landscape specimens and street trees from the neighborhood. With no gardener to guide them, the spindly wildlings form an impenetrable thicket of dark twigs with three-inch thorns.
Bergmann, a field botanist for the Montgomery County Parks Department, extricates herself from the thicket and in the meadow shows me that what I take to be blades of grass are actually shoots of trees, mowed to a few inches high. There are countless thousands, hiding in plain sight in Great Seneca Stream Valley Park. If it were not cut back once a year, the meadow would become like the adjacent screen, wall upon wall, acre upon acre of black-limbed, armored trees worthy of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
“You can’t mow this once and walk away,” said Bergmann, who began her 25-year career in the department as a forest ecologist but has been consumed by an ever-pressing need to address the escape of the Bradford pear and other variants of callery pear, a species that originated in China, along with other invasive exotics.
By Brett French
If there’s a plant-based poster child for wildland fire in the subalpine forests of Yellowstone National Park, it would be the cone of the lodgepole pine tree.
“All of these forests evolved with fire after the last glacial retreat,” said Roy Renkin, a vegetation specialist for Yellowstone National Park. “Different species have evolved different mechanisms to deal with fire.”
The Douglas fir has thick bark meant to resist low-intensity fires. Fireweed spends a lot of time spreading its roots out so it can sprout after fires remove competition. And the lodgepole pine’s specially devised cones will open to release seeds only when heated to 104 to 122 degrees.
“This green forest over here looked like that black forest many times,” he explained.
Renkin is one of the few people still on staff at Yellowstone who was around when the 1988 fires swept across roughly one-third of the park, charring more than 793,000 acres. Since then, he’s been witness to the rebirth of the park’s vegetation following what many at the time thought would be a legacy of scorched earth and a slow rebound.
“You guys will be lucky to have a meadow there in 100 years,” let alone a forest, he remembers one group of “ologists” concluding after visiting a heavily burn site. Thirty years later some of the trees that repopulated the area are 25 feet tall. Elk sedge that took root has grown “as big as basketballs.”
The U.S. forest products sector is very dynamic, and contributes a substantial amount of employment, income, manufacturing sales, and value added to rural forest economies throughout the country. Overall, forest products comprise about 1.5% of the total U.S. economy, and contribute about 5% of total manufacturing output in the country. Furthermore, the forest products sector is one of the top three contributors to most southern state economies.
The forest products industry creates incentives for property owners to manage their forests rather than convert them to other uses with a higher financial return, such as development. These working forests deliver many ecosystem services that society values—fresh water, carbon sequestration and storage, erosion control, natural disaster mitigation, biodiversity, recreation, foods, and medicinal plants.
The industry also provides markets for the by-products of forest management and restoration, such as small timber from hazardous fuels reduction and after-fire salvage harvests. In some areas of the West and interior Alaska, the lack of a forest products industry means that owners have no financial incentive to improve forest health. These owners must then decide whether to restore their forests at their own expense, for the benefit of all.
The United States is both the biggest consumer and the biggest producer of forest products, making almost 30 percent of the world’s forest products in all major categories.
The size and organization of the forest products sector have changed over recent decades because it is a cyclical industry, sensitive to fluctuations in the domestic economy and to long-term changes in output markets, consumer preferences, technology, and global economic growth.
The overall trend in the U.S. share of global production, mostly made up by solidwood products and pulp and paper, has been decreased production in most categories. For some products, the decline has been evident since the 1960s; others have slipped since the late 1990s. Trends point toward further declines, even while domestic production of particular products, such as wood pellets, increases.
By Theodore Endreny
Megacities are on the rise. There are currently 47 such areas around the globe, each housing more than 10 million residents.
More than half the global population now lives in urban areas, comprising about 3 percent of the Earth. The ecological footprint of this growth is vast and there’s far more that can be done to improve life for urban residents around the world.
When it comes to natural spaces, trees are keystone species in the urban ecosystem, providing a number of services that benefit people. My research team has calculated just how much a tree matters for many urban areas, particularly megacities. Trees clean the air and water, reduce stormwater floods, improve building energy use and mitigate climate change, among other things.
For every dollar invested in planting, cities see an average of US$2.25 return on their investment each year.
By Dave Merrill and Lauren Leatherby
There are many statistical measures that show how productive the U.S. is. Its economy is the largest in the world and grew at a rate of 4.1 percent last quarter, its fastest pace since 2014. The unemployment rate is near the lowest mark in a half century.
What can be harder to decipher is how Americans use their land to create wealth. The 48 contiguous states alone are a 1.9 billion-acre jigsaw puzzle of cities, farms, forests and pastures that Americans use to feed themselves, power their economy and extract value for business and pleasure.
Using surveys, satellite images and categorizations from various government agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture divides the U.S. into six major types of land. The data can’t be pinpointed to a city block—each square on the map represents 250,000 acres of land. But piecing the data together state-by-state can give a general sense of how U.S. land is used.