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 JOHN McCOY
“Fifty inches in diameter,” Doug Wood said as he read the number off the tape measure. “That means this poplar tree is probably at least 200 years old, maybe 250. That puts it into the old-growth category.”
Old growth? Wait a minute. For years, West Virginians have been told that the state’s only remaining old-growth forest tracts are in Cathedral State Park and the Monongahela National Forest’s Gaudineer Knob Scenic Area. Wood believes there are more old-growth stands scattered throughout the state, perhaps many more.
“Based on criteria established by the U.S. Forest Service, there are plenty of places in West Virginia that qualify as secondary old-growth forest, where the forest has grown back up after being logged,” he said. “Several areas of secondary old growth have already been identified, and I’m convinced that more will be found.”
The poplar tree Wood measured stood in Kanawha State Forest, just a few minutes’ drive from the hustle and bustle of downtown Charleston – hardly a place one would expect to find old-growth forest. Wood said a sizable portion of the forest’s northern end contains many such trees.
“So far, we’ve found tracts on several pieces of public land that have old-growth characteristics,” he continued. “Here in Kanawha State Forest, but also in Watoga, Cedar Creek, Twin Falls, Cacapon, North Bend, Holly River and Beech Fork state parks.”
Wood, a retired Department of Environmental Protection water-quality official, is helping spearhead an effort to identify old-growth tracts, particularly on public lands. He scours the woods looking for big trees and the signs of old-growth habitat that surround them. When he finds a likely tract, he notifies the Old Growth Network of its presence.
“The Old Growth Network is a non-profit group interested in helping designate old-growth areas,” Wood explained. “They like the effort to be driven by the local citizenry, so they have county coordinators to help get citizens interested in identifying old-growth tracts.”
Wood said the recent effort by Gov. Jim Justice and his administration to open state parks to timbering has helped give rise to the grass-roots effort to protect any old-growth areas that might exist within those parks.
A Heldreich’s pine discovered in southern Italy has been thriving in a remote part of a national park for 1,230 years.
By Kathleen Masterson
A new University of Vermont study finds that harvesting trees in a way that mimics old growth forests not only restores critical habitat for animals and plants, but also stores a surprising amount of carbon…
The “old growth” engineering technique succeeded in creating diverse habitats. But the kicker, Keeton says, is that it has also allowed the forest to store a significant amount of carbon, much more than several other conventional tree selection harvesting techniques. That’s key to fighting climate change.
Now, forests that are left alone — with no trees harvested — store the most carbon. But Keeton’s study is finding that it is possible to manage the forest to maximize carbon capture, and still keep it a working forest.
“This greater amount of carbon storage as compared to the conventional treatments was actually a combination of having left more trees behind in the first place, and growth rates that were actually 10 percent higher in this treatment as compared to the conventional harvest,” Keeton says. “And that was really surprising.”
Keeton says after 10 years, the old growth forest management plot stored nearly as much carbon as the unlogged control forest. It came within 16 percent of carbon storage in the unharvested plots.