Sunday, September 9, 2018

Lost Forests of New England film screenings

Our 2018 film "The Lost Forests of New England" was first publicly screened in July at Harvard Forest's Fisher Museum to an overflow audience. In fact, a second room was put into service, with its own screen, to accommodate those who couldn't watch in the main hall. Following the film, a panel of experts took questions from the audience. We heartily thank Dr. David Foster and his staff for hosting the premiere showing of this old growth forest film.



It was gratifying to see the large audience response, and it's clear that the topic of old growth forests is one of great interest to New Englanders. 

That event generated a lot of local interest in the film, and a number of additional screenings are being scheduled in Massachusetts. On the evening of September 21, 2018, the Mt. Wachusett Visitor's Center will host the next showing. 

Three days later, on September 24, the film will be presented in Greenfield, MA, at the Greenfield Garden Cinema, at 4:30pm, followed by the new film "Burned" at 7pm.

On October 5, 2018, there will be yet another showing in the theater at the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA, at 7pm. 

More such events are in the pipeline, but not firmly scheduled yet.

At each showing, there will again be a panel of experts, some of whom appear in the film, to comment and conduct a Q&A session.

We hope to see you in one of those audiences!



 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

New Film: Tom Wessels- Reading the Forested Landscape

I'm very pleased to announce a new film featuring Tom Wessels (professor emeritus, Antioch University New England), who is a terrestrial ecologist and author.

Tom Wessels


In central New England, it's almost a given that when you walk through a forest you'll encounter at least one stone wall (or, perhaps more accurately, stone fence).

 Who would build such a structure out in the woods? And why? There are well over one hundred thousand miles of stone fences throughout this region, running every which way through forests. What's going on here?


The greatest percentage of the forests here are relatively young, having regenerated following abandonment of agricultural land, beginning in the mid to late 1800's. The stone fences are artifacts of those old farming days. Agricultural land can be of three types: crop fields, hay mowings, and pasture. Each leaves signature characteristics that Tom Wessels has become a master at discerning.

Within a long-standing forest, various kinds of disturbances occur that, like the abandonment of a farm, leave their peculiar traces. Wind storms, for example, blow trees over, uprooting them and creating a hole or pit, and a mass of soil that the root ball pulls up and eventually drops beside the pit. Forest fires and logging leave their own evidence in the woods. Beavers, fungi, and insects all affect the forest. And so on.

Tom has written two books to help us understand what we see (and what many of us would never have noticed) when exploring the forest. The first was "Reading the Forested Landscape". I found it hard to put down, and have read it several times; with each reading, a little more sinks in; forest mysteries are finally made clear.


Many readers told Tom they just love the book, but still found it difficult to put its insights into practice in the woods. Tom realized he needed to create a "dichotomous key" type of book, a "field guide to forest forensics". And so, book number two on this topic is titled "Forest Forensics: a Field Guide to the Forested Landscape". It walks you through the interpretation of your forest scene, step-by-step.

After meeting Tom while filming "The Lost Forests of New England" (in which he appears), I asked if he'd be interested in collaborating on a film based on his books; his answer pleased me, and we jumped into a one-year project. So, we now have a three-part "Reading the Forested Landscape" film for you to enjoy! I would suggest reading the books first (especially the first one), and then watching the film to complement and reinforce what you've learned. But if you watch the film first, then by all means get the books... there's much more material in them than what the film can cover.


Sites in New Hampshire and Vermont are used in the film, but the information Tom conveys applies to a region well beyond the bounds of central New England.

You can watch all three parts of the film on the New England Forests Youtube channel (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), or by clicking the player panels below (note: if you're reading this in an email feed, you may not see the player panels).

Please feel free to leave comments on this blog post, and/or on the youtube sites. 

Now- get into a comfortable chair... there's a lot to learn...


Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:




Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Harvard Forest to Screen Old-Growth Forest Film

Our 2018 old-growth forest film, "The Lost Forests of New England," will be screened at Harvard Forest's Fisher Museum on the evening of July 10, at 7pm. The one-hour film tells the story of central New England's pre-settlement forests, factors that led to the nearly complete clearing of those forests, and the discovery of remnants of those wonderful woodlands.


Following the showing of the film, there will be a panel of experts (many of whom appear in the film) present to make brief statements and to answer questions from the audience.

The panel will include David Foster, Director of Harvard Forest; Bob Leverett, old-growth forest expert; David Orwig, forest ecologist at Harvard Forest; Heidi Ricci, Assistant Director of Advocacy at Mass Audubon; Bill Moomaw, Professor Emeritus of International Environmental Policy at the Fletcher School, Tufts University; and others yet to be confirmed.

Join us to learn the many ways New England will benefit from an increase in natural, timeless, old-growth forests.





The event is free and open to the public. Fisher Museum is located at 324 North Main Street (Rt 32), Petersham, MA. Directions are available at the museum's website.



Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The White Pine Weevil - a New Film

The eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) is the tallest growing tree species in the northeast; in fact, currently, the tallest living thing in New England is a 175-foot white pine growing in northern Massachusetts.

White Pine

In early colonial times, Britain had long been exploiting the European supply of Baltic pine or "Riga fir" (P. sylvestris), from which masts for her warships were fashioned, and the supply was becoming strained. A dependable source of shipmast trees was badly needed, and the newly discovered eastern white pine in the American colonies was just the ticket. This was the tallest conifer species in all of eastern North America. Masts 40 inches in diameter and 120 feet tall (weighing up to 18 tons) could be readily obtained from these soaring, straight trunks.
Arrow-straight white pine

Massive white pines, straight as a sunbeam, were also highly prized by the colonists for the superb timbers and lumber they could provide, their wood being easily worked; it was light, and strong for its weight. The fledgling colonies sorely needed the pines for building materials as much as the British navy did, albeit for different purposes. The original, primeval stands of virgin pine were relentlessly clear cut, beginning along the New England coast, going north and west from there.

Through the 1800's, central New England was rapidly cleared for agricultural land, to the point where only about 20 percent of that area retained any forest cover. Big pines were no more. With the opening of the Ohio valley in the latter part of the nineteenth century, New England farm land was largely abandoned, and reverted to forest. Many fallow fields seeded in with white pine, eventually resulting in the next round of white pine logging in the early twentieth century. And today, white pine lumber is still in high demand.

One of the downsides of large tracts of pine growing in open, abandoned fields  is that the flush of young pines growing in full sun is a boon to an insect known as the white pine weevil (Pissodes strobi). The vigorously growing saplings are highly susceptible to the onslaught of this weevil, and are a vital part of the insect's life cycle. In spring, adult weevils feed on the tissues of the uppermost shoot and terminal buds (last year's growth); that in itself might not do much damage to the shoot or tree. However, the adult females chew pinholes through the tender bark and cambium layer of the shoot and deposit eggs in them. This is where their young will develop and feed, and there may be hundreds of them in one shoot. The larvae will feed in the soft, developing tissues under the supple bark, which kills the terminal shoot; when they mature to adults, they chew their way out.

The white pine weevil


A pine tree, like most conifers, is programmed to grow one trunk, straight up, by elongating the topmost terminal bud (and growing a whorl of side branches at its base), eventually ending the growing season with a new set of terminal buds for next year's growth.

But when that new terminal shoot is damaged or killed, the whorl of side branches below it curve upward to take over the role of upward-growing leader. Problem is, now there are typically two or more trunks instead of one. It's great real estate for the next generation of weevils, but a severe blow to the value of the tree for man's uses.

Multi-trunk white pine - result of weevil damage

If you've ever wondered why some pines are single-stemmed and others are multi-trunked, you now know the original terminal shoot was either killed or broken. If you'd like to see the weevil's life cycle, then you'll want to watch the latest New England Forests film, "The White Pine Weevil". Click the player below (may not be available in email feeds), or it can be found at our Youtube channel (www.youtube.com/c/NewEnglandForests).

Feel free to leave comments on the blog and/or at the Youtube film.










Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Return of the Great White Pines

The following is an essay by guest contributor Bob Leverett, the eastern (U.S.) old-growth forest "guru". 




Saheda, Tecumseh, and Washakie

Three Massachusetts Trees That Give Us Bragging Rights

 

            By Robert T. Leverett
            April 20, 2018

White Pines: A Historical Perspective


What comes to mind at the mention of New England: the region’s rich history, culture, scenery? All of these, but what about its forests? Were it not for our brilliant fall colors, I doubt many people would visit us to see our woodlands. New England’s forests are not associated with exceptional trees. But it wasn’t always this way. In the 1600's and 1700's, chroniclers described a landscape that featured giant pines, some claimed to be well over 200 feet in height. In fact, the eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) was the foremost symbol of the region’s original virgin wilderness.

Great white pines of yesteryear

Today’s forest historians relegate those giant pines to the pages of history. Romantic accounts abound of white pines, especially in Maine and New Hampshire, reaching astounding sizes and achieving great ages, and of course, the species was famous as a resource for ship masts. The great whites became the replacement for the exhausted European Riga Fir (actually Scotch Pine, P. sylvestris) used by the King’s Navy to hold up the sails of its war ships. Trees of a certain size and shape were reserved exclusively for the Royal Navy. They were often marked by three slashes of an ax, called the broad arrow markings. But the time of those legendary pines came and went. 

 
The intense lumbering of the region, especially in the 1700's and 1800's, left us with young regrowth woodlands. By the early to mid-1900's, most of our New England forests were populated with younger trees. Field guides of the time often described the white pine as a tree capable of surpassing 100 feet in height, but often listed current heights as commonly 75 to 100 feet. More descriptive authors like Donald Culross Peattie reminded us of the historic heights, but most of these authors made it clear that no such trees still existed. In fact, the stature of the species had been so diminished that one hiking guide to trails in New Hampshire boasted of a pine that was purportedly 125 feet tall. This lone tree was considered the rare exception at the time the guide was written.

White Pines Today


To make matters worse, today’s management paradigm aims at keeping our woodlands young and shrubby, said by timber interests to be a healthier state than when trees reach their maturity. Yet, for many reasons, our forests are offering up some surprises. The biggest one may be the re-emergence of the eastern white pine to reclaim some of its former glory.

So, what is today’s story about this charismatic eastern species, and more particularly, where do Massachusetts’s pines fit into the narrative? In conservation areas, parks, state forests, and even on private lands, the great whites are maturing, and one of the best places to see them is Mohawk Trail State Forest (MTSF), located in the MA townships of Charlemont, Savoy, and Florida. How large do these regrowth pines get? Do any approach their historic sizes? This question will in part be answered by my account of the re-measuring of two of Mohawk’s largest.

Re-measuring the Saheda Pine


On April 18, 2018, Ray Asselin, Jared Lockwood, and I went to the Elders Grove of white pines in Mohawk Trail State Forest. The visitor reaches a cluster of conspicuously larger trees after a 10 to 15 minute walk on a trail paralleling the scenic Deerfield River. On the 18th, this path was slippery with recently fallen wet snow. The compromised footing presented me with challenges for my new knee. Yet, I was anxious to get as much measuring done as possible before the hardwoods leaf out. The veil of dense green of the hardwoods 50 to 100 feet above the head makes re-measuring the overstory pines that thrust through the hardwoods very difficult, if not impossible.

My first task was to re-measure the Saheda pine. Saheda is the name of a Mohawk ambassador who was murdered in the late 1600's when he was on a mission of peace to the Pocumtucks at what is now Old Deerfield. I thought the historic Saheda deserved a tree named for him in the Elders Grove, and in my Native Tree Society (NTS) capacity, chose arguably the handsomest pine in the grove. Saheda is located above the trail, near two others: Sacajawea and Ouray.

On this visit, I wanted to record Saheda’s current height before the onset of the growing season. I closely monitor this great tree and have for years. I’ve watched Saheda and other pines in the grove climb upward since the late 1970's, but it was in the mid-1990's when we began measuring Saheda with serious intent.

In 1998, Will Blozan, President of NTS and an arborist extraordinaire, climbed and tape-drop measured Saheda. At that time, we confirmed Saheda at the eye-popping height of 158.3 feet. Based on what we believed white pines to be able to achieve growth-wise in the modern era, this was exceptional. Only one other tree we knew of topped Saheda - another white pine, also in MTSF, named for Mohawk chief Jake Swamp. Will had also climbed and tape-drop measured Jake to a height of 158.6 feet on the same visit when he climbed Saheda. The two trees were neck and neck, and so far as we knew, the two tallest in Massachusetts, if not all New England. We were still influenced by the descriptions of forest historians and government resource managers who continued to maintain that the species was still in its youthful stage throughout New England, save for older pines growing on very unproductive sites – small trees. 

We’ve watched both pines, Jake Swamp and Saheda, exceed 160 feet in height, and more recently 170. Neither shows signs of slowing down. However, for me, as the years passed, it became apparent that Jake was growing a little faster than Saheda. That seemed to fit with the differences in their ages. Jake is about 160 years old and Saheda, around 185 or 190.

To put a finer point on the numbers, Saheda’s growth rate has averaged 8.46 inches per year since Will’s climb in 1998, and Jake has maintained an average of 9.6 inches since 1992. Most forestry professionals expect pines the ages of these trees to be growing at maybe 5 inches in height per year.

My last measurement of Saheda, taken with a laser rangefinder in July 2017, set its height at 171.4 feet. However, I didn’t use my tripod on that measurement, which made exactly hitting the target a challenge. I had gotten numbers as low as 171.0 feet and as high as 171.8 feet, with one measurement at exactly 171.4. When you press the “fire” button on a laser rangefinder or hypsometer, you can pull the instrument down slightly. On any given measurement, that may or may not happen, but it is a potential source of error. Anyway, the 171.4-foot height seemed a reliable number to settle on, so I proclaimed it as Saheda’s height.

But on this visit I carried my tripod so that I could control handshake and the button-press sources of error that invariably accompany measurements when instruments are handheld.

While I re-measured Saheda’s height, Jared took diameter measurements up the trunk using his TruPulse 200X (hypsometer) and Vortex Solo RT 8/36 (monocular). The combination of a hypsometer and monocular allows us to measure diameter up and down the trunk from a remote location. The formula needed to calculate trunk width above or below eye level from a distance using a monocular is:



where M = reticle reading, D = distance to middle of trunk, F = manufacturer’s reticle factor, and A = angle above or below eye level of width line being measured.
On this visit, our double objective was to fix Saheda’s height prior to the onset of annual growth and to re-model the pine for trunk volume, which required the trunk width measurements.


Jared (left) and Bob measuring Saheda

Finding a good location to see the left side of Saheda’s crown, I set up my tripod. I could see Saheda’s silver id tag near its base, so I was set. Below is a view of Saheda’s base and the location I use to choose an exact spot on the ground from which to measure height. An argument can be made for setting the base point lower to match the slope of the land. I choose to be conservative on this point.

Saheda's base



From locations within 200 feet, necessary for seeing both top and base, the highest crown points of Saheda are the real challenge to see, let alone measure. However, from a much greater distance, its complex double crown stands out. Below is a view of the top taken from well upstream. You can see where I’ve marked the top. But, again, seeing that sprig from much closer requires both work and luck.

Looking for Saheda's top

Part of the challenge becomes clear when one realizes that the area of twigging with candidates for the absolute top can cover as much as 100 ft2 on these larger, older pines. At their widest, mature white pine crowns are typically between 40 and 55 feet, although the points of maximum width are well below the top. Still, the area that includes the highest twigs often presents many choices. On older pines, there is seldom a branch that is clearly the tallest from one’s vantage point, and even less often is it centered over the trunk. Crown breakage and re-sprouting is the norm.

Saheda's top

 
Here is an interesting fact. For visitors to Saheda, seeing the tree from a distance seldom seems to make much of an impact. A four-foot wide trunk seen from 200 feet away looks like a stick. One needs to get up close for impact, and looking directly up its trunk is when you experience an OMG moment -and that still occurs for me. In my opinion, Saheda is all that a white pine can hope to be. When I first took my friend Tim Zelazo (now retired from MA-DCR) to see the tall pine, he looked aloft into its crown, and was an immediate fan of Saheda. Tim was no stranger to the Berkshire’s forests, but the Elders Grove had escaped him. Gazing upward, this is what he saw.






Measurement Results


From my vantage point, I was able to shoot to four identifiable tops of Saheda’s double crown, all on the uphill side of the crown. One conspicuous tip gave me a reading of 128.25 feet above the centroid of the TruPulse. I asked Ray to confirm the measurement, which he did. Turning the TruPulse on the axis of the tripod and shooting to Saheda’s metal tag, the height below the centroid read 40.5 feet on the display. The height of the tag above the point I use as Saheda’s base, as shown in the first image, was 3.0 feet. The three numbers add up to 171.7 feet!

Saheda hasn’t grown since July 2017. The difference between the 171.4 and 171.7 probably lies in the use of my tripod, which gave me a sturdier platform to shoot from, as previously explained. In addition, this time my vantage point was different. Regardless, there isn’t a dramatic difference between 171.4 and 171.7. Still, when you are the second tallest living thing we know of in all New England, inches matter.

 Saheda's Carbon Sequestration Capacity


Our second challenge was to update our calculations on Saheda’s trunk volume. With updated figures, we would then: (1) convert volume into total woody mass, (2) derive the carbon portion of that mass, and (3) calculate the amount of CO2 pulled from the atmosphere to build the trunk. The next chart shows our calculations, followed by more explanatory comments. The process and calculations are shown here to explain the methodology. Skip the chart if you are not interested in these technical details.

 
The newly calculated trunk volume of Saheda is 852 ft3. I had been using 825 ft3 before based on cruder measurements. Limbs add between 5.5% and 6% of the trunk’s volume. Using 5.75%, I arrived at a trunk and limb volume of 901 ft3. Taking an average density of 24 lb/ft3 (that number varies from around 21 to 29), we get a total trunk mass of 21,624 lbs. If 48% of the total mass is elemental carbon, this yields 10,380 lbs. The amount of CO2 needed to deposit the calculated amount of carbon in the trunk and limbs is 10,380 x 3.67 = 38,095 lbs or 19.05 tons.

For the modest sized rectangular area that Saheda takes up on the landscape, we’re getting a very good environmental return on the physical space.

I’ll leave Saheda with a final picture of the pine and my late, great friend Gary Beluzo, who was an environmental studies professor at Holyoke Community College, where I also taught as an adjunct for 24 years.

Gary Beluzo at the Saheda white pine

Tecumseh and Washakie

  

One of the two other trees we re-measured was Tecumseh, named for the famous Shawnee chief of the early 1800's. Tecumseh was a charismatic figure. It is still difficult to get his full measure. Tecumseh’s tree is no less impressive, but it is even harder to measure than Saheda. In the past, I had established its height at 166.8 feet, but on this visit, I could only get 165.5 feet. We noticed that Tecumseh had experienced a lot of limb pruning, and I believe that it has lost crown. For now, I’ll stay with 165.5. Tecumseh has been climbed and tape-drop measured by both Will Blozan and Bart Bouricious. Like Saheda, Tecumseh achieves a 12-foot girth at breast height. My current estimate of Tecumseh’s trunk volume is 849 ft3.

Below is an image of the base of Tecumseh when my friend Bart Bouricius was climbing and tape-drop measuring the tree. DCR’s Tim Zelazo photographed the event. 

The Tecumseh white pine







We measured another pine, hitherto unnamed, growing a short distance south of Tecumseh. I last measured the nameless one in 2010 when it was 152.6 feet. Today, I got 155.3 feet. This pine has averaged a modest 4.6-inch annual height increase. Obviously, not all the pines are growing at Saheda’s rate. However, most are growing at least a half a foot per growing season. We named this pine Washakie after the great Shoshoni chief. It measures a respectable 10.3 feet in girth, and has a trunk volume of between 550 and 575 ft3. I felt satisfied with the naming choice. Monica and I have visited the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming on several occasions, and I have long admired Washakie. He was a true leader.
 

Our Custom of Honoring Native Americans by Naming Trees After Them

 

In terms of honoring the past Native Americans with trees in the Elders Grove, we now have Saheda, Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Sacajawea, Ouray, Osceola, Wampanoag (unspecified), and now Washakie. The other larger trees will eventually acquire Native American names. Our reason for naming the trees after Native Americans is simply that the custom seems appropriate. The great white pines of yesteryear were abundant when indigenous people were in control. Also, the Mohawks proclaimed the eastern white pine as their tree of peace, and the Algonquin-speaking nations held the species in no less esteem. Additionally, the indigenous peoples found sustenance in the underbark of the pines as a food source. Today we are discovering that the compounds of the pines released into the air have health benefits. In terms of naming all the pines, we don’t want to rush the process, though. It would be counter to the ceremonial state of mind that I associate with real Native teachers.


Is There a Higher Purpose Behind Our Measuring and Modeling?

 

Why do Ray, Jared, and I spend so much time with these lofty pines, and in particular Saheda? Each of us has his reasons, but an especially important one for me is that I find it unacceptable that in 2018 such a great tree should go unrecognized in a state as highly educated and foresighted as Massachusetts. The visibility and importance of Saheda and his companions have largely been lost to our fixation on the presumed need to “manage” all our forests - too often a euphemism for exploitation.

Those of the latter mindset do not understand the full range of the ecological services provided by our biggest trees. These forest monarchs provide habitat for a range of species, sequester more carbon than their junior counterparts, protect the genetic heritage of their species, moderate the climate around them, and provide heretofore unrecognized health benefits to those who walk among them. They appeal to our artistic sense and spiritual nature. No less a personage than Henry David Thoreau understood their place.

Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of 500 or 1000 acres, where a stick should never be cut … a common possession forever.” (1859)

People can disagree on Saheda’s value along subjective lines such as aesthetics, but Saheda’s role in sequestering carbon should not be in doubt. That alone gives us an immediate reason for valuing it and the other big pines of the Elders Grove. Saheda and Tecumseh debunk the mistaken, and often self-serving belief that the larger, older trees are senescent: holding, but not adding carbon. They are adding, and adding a lot, and we will continue to keep track of the amount.

Sacajawea (left), Saheda, and Ouray pines                                     (New England Forests photo)


I’ll close this topic with some unsettling observations. I wish I didn’t feel the need to make them. All people and professions knowledgeable about forests should find inspiration in places like the Elders Grove. Those splendid trees should be valued for historical, cultural, aesthetic, and ecological reasons.

But sadly, much of modern forestry discounts the ecological role of trees in their maturity. The profession actively promotes early successional habitat, while at best, paying lip service to its late successional counterpart. Obviously, timber people can’t wait 100 years and more for trees to fulfill their ecological role before cutting them. So, practically speaking, most of our forests have to be managed on shorter rotations if we’re to continue enjoying wood products.

Still, one would hope that the professional forestry organizations would publicly support a nontrivial percentage of our forests maintained as late successional. Yet today we are seeing a growing number of forestry voices promoting the use of trees to generate heat and electricity. They claim biomass to be carbon neutral. It clearly is not, and the mental gymnastics that supporters of biomass go through to justify their illogical claims are wholly unconvincing.

As long as outdated and mistaken beliefs about the growth rates of mature trees are publicly promoted by resource managers attempting to justify logging it will be necessary for us to ‘publicly’ set the record straight.

 

Paying Respect to All

This essay is primarily about the Elders Grove pines and more particularly Saheda, Tecumseh, and Washakie. However, in the introduction I alluded to the return of the eastern white pine in Massachusetts as our true New England forest monarch. I will conclude with a list of all the sites we have documented in the Bay State with pines in the height range of 140 feet or more. This list constantly changes, but in the direction of an increasing number of locations. As shown in the table, many of our measurements are old, and we do not believe that we’ve exhausted the current number of "140" sites. There may be as many as 50 statewide. 

Species Code:  WP=White Pine  NS=Norway Spruce  TT=Tulip Tree(Yellow Poplar)

 


 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

New Film: The Lost Forests of New England

New England has experienced a vast manipulation of its once-virgin forest lands in a relatively short period of time. There has been an almost complete turnover in forest cover since the arrival of the first European settlers.

Upon the retreat of the Laurentide ice sheet (which had smothered the land under thousands of feet of glacial ice for thousands of years, eliminating all life under it), plants and animals migrated northward to re-establish New England forests. This occurred approximately fourteen to fifteen thousand years ago.


New England's Old Growth Forests


The composition of the forest here has changed since that time, the species varying with warming climate. By the time the first Europeans arrived, New England was largely covered by primeval forest. In some areas, Native Americans had already altered forests, for several reasons. But the forest had never been rapaciously exploited as it would be post-settlement.
White Pines







The current forest cover we now enjoy is not what it was 350 years ago.

We, perhaps as recreational users, may find today's New England forests to be attractive in many ways, and doing just fine. But is that just because they're all we know? Are we impressed by stands of 10-inch diameter poles, all the same age? Are multi-trunked, coppiced trees the norm in a forest? Why is that grove of Norway spruce there? Why do all those hemlock trees have so few needles? Why are the beech tree trunks covered with blisters?

Do we know what primitive, old-growth New England forests looked like? Those are long gone, aren't they?

Well, yes they are. And that's truly a sad thing to contemplate. But wait-- there are a few small patches of old growth forest still in existence in New England, as hard as it may be to believe. I was literally thrilled to learn that, some thirty years ago, when I went on my first hike with Bob Leverett (I don't think he had much choice in the matter... I had to see these places!). Bob has led the charge in Massachusetts (and much of the rest of the country) to rediscover, measure,  and document remnant old growth forests. I don't know how he's managed to cover as much ground as he has, but I'm truly grateful for his pursuits. He wore out a couple knees in the effort though.

A few years ago, it was becoming apparent to Bob and me, and some others,  that these remaining old stands, with their characteristics of age and almost mystical ambience, needed to be revered, studied, and most of all... preserved and protected. That led to the idea of a film to document our old growth woodlands. But there was a dilemma... these ancient forests are small fragments of what once was, and as such are vulnerable to loss from ignorance of their value and ecological import. They could disappear literally in a matter of a day or two. To be protected, their existence must be known to those who would care enough about them to be vigilant (that would be you). But the other side of that coin is that sometimes, attention by too many well-meaning enthusiasts results in a place succumbing to "too much love". That put us in a tight spot... we wanted to see these remnants protected forever, but not at the cost of losing them to heavy traffic!

Well, the film is now done. We chose to not readily identify specific locations, so as not to promote undue visitation. That may strike some as elitist; we felt it was the best course to take.

Preserving Remnant Old Growth Forests



The reasons for the need to preserve our only bits of unmanaged, old growth forests are many; they give us a benchmark to compare with what we do to managed forests; they preserve valuable genetic material; they are the best forests that nature can produce in their particular sites; they are complex ecosystems (versus the simplified ones of managed woodlands); so far, they've mostly resisted non-native species invasions. There are more reasons. But one I find to be quite important (no... required) for own my well-being, is the knowledge that such places really do still exist, unspoiled by human exploitation, free of litter, and inhabited by a variety of organisms that belong there just as much as we do.


The film discusses the forests experienced by the first Europeans who saw them and what transpired after settlers took to the land, to the present day explorers and scientists who have rediscovered some real treasures. Featured are a number of prominent ecologists who have studied our old growth remnants.

You can view the film on our New England Forests channel (Youtube), or in the viewer below (may not be available in email feeds).

Please do convey your thoughts about it in the comments section here, and/or on the channel.                                     

        




Tuesday, September 26, 2017

New England's Tallest Tree

New England is not what most people would think of as "big tree country." Yet, there are some respectable columns of cellulose rising from the ground here. Massachusetts, in particular, grows a number of respectable white pines, and other species as well.

In fact, the tallest living thing in New England (and then some) is rooted in a protective cove in a Western Mass state forest reserve. It's an eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). In September, 2017, the "guru" of eastern old growth forests, Bob Leverett, re-measured the tree, which he's been keeping close watch on for 25 years.




This tree is not a particularly old specimen, as old trees go; it sprouted from seed in the Civil War era, so is roughly 160 years old now. But it has taken advantage of the site conditions to rocket its way skyward, now scraping low-lying cloud bottoms at 175 feet. A number of other nearby pines are not far behind.

The pines in this stand are currently affected by a fungal infection known as "needle cast," which is causing their foliage (needles) to drop. The thinning in their crowns is quite noticeable, sadly. In spite of this, the trees are still growing, although for how long is a painful question to contemplate.



Bob knows all there is to know about measuring trees; you could say he wrote the book. No, really-- he and Don Bertolette just wrote new chapter and verse on tree measuring methods for American Forests, keepers of the national champion tree registry. Friends, what we now have is an 84-page (and growing) tome that will guide anyone with enough lignin in their cells to the irrefutable dimensions of a tree. Bob, Don, and Matt Markworth also head up the newly formed American Forests National Cadre, a group specializing in proper measurement techniques for national champion trees. And as a co-founder and Executive Director of the Native Tree Society (NTS), Bob is well-known across the country.

The science (art?) of measuring trees has changed with the times and technology. The methods of yesteryear may have been relatively inexpensive (eg, a lengthy tape measure and a clinometer), but you got what you paid for... frustration and inaccuracy. It's one thing to be tasked with measuring the height of a flagpole in the middle of an open field. But imagine a tree on a steep slope surrounded by dozens of other trees, all with foliage that obscures your view of the top and/or base of the tree to be measured. In the "old" days, you'd stretch the tape measure out to perhaps 100 feet from the tree, as the baseline of a right triangle. Then you'd determine the angle formed by that baseline and an imaginary line to the top of the tree, using a clinometer. Apply some basic trigonometry (that just scared you away, huh?), and presto! You just calculated the height of the tree! The only catch is, you didn't get the right answer (for a number of reasons, not all of which are readily apparent).

In comes today's technology. We now can reduce that burdensome method to a mere press of a laser rangefinder button. Well, ok, it's not really quite that straightforward all the time, but that's essentially what it's about. The tool measures distances and angles, and does the math for you.


Bob Leverett, Matt Markworth

We have produced a short film in which Bob and Matt explain the basics of tree measurement, using today's methods; don't worry, you'll be spared... it only covers about 4 of the 84 pages of the manual. Just enough to give you an idea of how trees are officially measured for champion status.

Should you wish to learn more about measuring trees, big tree hunting, or many other tree-related topics, visit the Native Tree Society website at www.nativetreesociety.org
 
You can see the film at our Youtube channel (click here), or click on the embedded video below (if you're reading this in an email feed, you may not see the embedded video link). Be sure to select "1080p60" as the viewing quality from the gear wheel "Settings" icon at the bottom right of the youtube screen.