- Posts: 2443
- Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2015 7:20 pm
- Location: Stanley, New Brunswick, Canada
- Ski style: Nordic backcountry touring
- Favorite Skis: Asnes Ingstad BC; Asnes Gamme 54 BC; Asnes Falketind 62;Asnes Storetind Carbon
- Favorite boots: Alfa Guard Advance BC; Alpina Alaska BC; Scarpa T4
- Occupation: Forestry Professional
Instructor at Maritime College of Forest Technology
Husband, father, farmer and logger
Spending time in and trekking through "old" forests has been a major pursuit of my life and career (I teach forest ecology and silviculture).
To my knowledge, one of the premier texts on the science of eastern "old growth" forests is "Eastern Old Growth Forests";
This would not be the best reference for trip-planning- but it would definitely help in understanding what old forests are- and where to find them in eastern NA.
I put quotations around "old growth" because it is one of very many "dirty" terms in forestry that can have many different and conflicting meanings- I personally avoid using the term as much as I can.
Patches or "stands" of old forest, that humans find spellbinding, typically have one thing in common- they are dominated by large, old trees. The large, old trees in these stands have a common history- they have originated from a single disturbance event that allowed them to establish and take over the forest canopy. So although we tend to think of "old forests" as something immortal, or forever in that state- these stands started as young thickets of trees- and will eventually breakup into open-canopied, multi-aged forests (that is until another major disturbance starts the process all over again).
So from the perspective of "patches of large old trees"- every young thicket will eventually reach that development stage if left alone long enough to get there.
"Virgin" or "primary" forest (i.e. forests that have never been logged) are EXTREMELY rare in the eastern US and southeastern Canada (they are more common in the Boreal Forest- at least for the moment- we Canadians are getting at cutting it!).
There has been much recent research that makes it clear that much of the "Ancient Forest" (i.e. pre-Columbian) in the temperate forests of eastern NA were actually created and maintained by disturbances- much of which was caused by Native Americans (First Nations)- either accidentally or deliberately.
For example, the vast mixed oak-hickory forests were most definitely a product of continuous and deliberate use of Aboriginal fire. Native Americans deliberately created and maintained these "Ancient Forests" both to encourage the production of edible nuts, and to maintain habitat for hunted prey. (The vast southern pine forests have a similar history).
It is becoming clear that many of the spectacular stands of "ancient" pine were actually a product of Native Americans abandoning their farmland when the soil fertility ran out!
The dense boreal, temperate softwood, and northern hardwood forests blanket the humid northeast and mountains further south. Pre-European settlement, Native Americans had less of a fundamental impact on the condition and character of these forests. Due to the abundant precipitation, these forests experienced very long periods of development in between very rare natural fire events (in fact there are a number of ecoregions in the Northeast that are actually technically rainforests, and would never burn naturally:
Birches are native to NA. Specific to the Northeast- white birch and yellow birch have always been common components of our forests- even the "ancient forests". But Mike- you are correct- forests that are dominated by birch are early-successional and have recently experienced a major disturbance- which could have been caused by logging, fire, wind, or abandoned land. Yellow birch is much longer lived than white birch and is also somewhat tolerant of shade. So although yellow birch would never dominate a truly "old forest"- it is able to maintain a presence in even the oldest of stands.
Our European cultural consciousness deeply affects our view and appreciation of wilderness. Many studies have shown that most people of European-descent would describe an "ancient" or "old growth" forest as a cathedral of large, old, pillar-like, uniform trees. When in fact, truly old forests are a real "mess"- an intimate mix of trees of all ages, full of gaps, thickets, and full of dead trees. Truly old forests are very special places- but they are very difficult to travel through- let alone ski through! They are the domain of the snowshoe.
Unashamed to be a "cross-country type" and love skiing down-hill.
I don't know that natives did much in these parts except hunting. Many of the tribes of the Iroquois nation considered the Adirondacks uninhabitable year round and would just make trips to hunt. They were a highly agricultural native tribe, so you can see why they favored the fertile valleys south of the Adirondack dome to the rocks and thin soils with dense forest and harsh conditions.
Large white pines are somewhat of symbol of the Adirondacks. Most forests that had been logged left even a few of them and a few more escaped wind storms and fire, so there tend to be some giants around. I think the biggest (or maybe oldest?) in NY is actually at Paul Smith's College and part of their 'orchard' of pines they use for forestry classes.
Anyway, there are a few of these groves of humongous white pines that were never logged or thinned. These are typically what people talk about here when they talk about old growths. I would be interested to know how they came about. They definitely aren't old enough to escape the reach of Europeans and native Americans, but I'm not sure they came about from man-made influences. I'd be interested to know more, and know what causes them. Maybe a fire in the past? Soil type?
Anyway, the info is great. More! More!
Recently I read that, as LC says, the Indians tended to farm land until the soil was exhausted of nutrients, then they would burn a new patch and start farming there. So huge white pine forests may have developed from their old agricultural land. In mountains it's different though, the Indians didn't do much in the mountains. At higher elevations I think it's more of a primordial age and then modern logging came through. for instance the entirely of the White Mountains were logged down to bare muddy ground around 1900 from what I've read. I doubt the Indians were doing much farming or burning above 2500 feet.
Thoreau's "The Maine Woods" is another great book and has great descriptions of the "old-growth" environment in Maine. I love reading about the high-impact camping they did - typically they'd just push some massive old-growth logs together and have a raging 10-foot bonfire going through the night.
-Will Lange (quoting Inuit chieftan)
Areas in the Central to Eastern Central regions were heavily, heavily logged and burned many times over. What remains today is relatively young forests but what I think makes them aesthetically pleasing is the mix of white birch and conifers like balsams. They are quite nice looking trees and some of my favorite areas to ski have a good scene even in dense forest.
The majority of the west was logged, but it must have been much longer ago, or escaped most of the large fires (I should look at the actual history and see it it makes sense with the tree species). I tend to see a fair deal of yellow birch, mostly older, a lot them coming down now, but not in heavy groves. Usually dispersed withing sugar maples, red maples, American beech, and maybe some ash. Then you have the big white pines, which tend to be interspersed AND in groves (but more rare because they were desirable for timber). Then you'll see stands of conifers patched in to the hardwoods wherever they can take over. Usually not very big - up high it will be stunted spruce. Near the edges of some lakes you'll find some large hemlocks, and they tend to be in groves.
These forests don't seem a lot different than most of the 'virgin' forests. They have similar species so maybe it's been long enough they are starting to approach similar distributions. How long does it take for an eastern mixed boreal forest to reach maturity? Some of the places in the west haven't been logged for over 100 years.
I'm sure a trained eye could tell the difference. I'll have to keep a closer look next time I'm out in the virgin forest.
I usually take visual note of the species during the fall from mountain tops. The colors give you an idea of what trees are where.
So true. I spent the early-mid 1990s as part of a small research team studying the value old-growth white pine forests to wildlife in northern and central Ontario - a politically charged issue at the timelilcliffy wrote:When in fact, truly old forests are a real "mess"- an intimate mix of trees of all ages, full of gaps, thickets, and full of dead trees. Truly old forests are very special places- but they are very difficult to travel through- let alone ski through! They are the domain of the snowshoe.
I scampered through remote stands of white pine, red pine, eastern hemlock and various hardwoods and boreal mixedwoods, from the Manitoba to Quebec border, through all seasons.
Job one, for the federal forest service, was simply finding, mapping, measuring, and assessing those stands across a huge area - which was a lot of fun - got to see alot of neat places not often visited. While all stands (and adventures getting to them) were memorable, some were magnificent and catherdal like, but most were a "mess" that were structurally complex and included a supercanopy dominated by a few, scattered, honking big trees! Good times.
Yes, there used to be a lot more. These, along with oaks and hemlocks, were the most sought after trees in the logging camp days of northeastern North America. They were good ship building lumber for the navy.MikeK wrote:...there used to be A LOT more. I assume dispersed within the hardwoods and not necessarily in groves.
Both occur. Big white pines in hardwoods and also in groves. White pine is relatively fire resistant, so some will survive lower intensity fires - thanks to their thick bark - that "clears" out the other tree species.
Yes. In "old-growth" white pine, though, its often from multiple disturbance events that occur relatively frequently at smaller spatial scales. Red pine stands, like jack pine, more often regenerate from a single disturbance (fire).lilcliffy wrote:Patches or "stands" of old forest, that humans find spellbinding, typically have one thing in common- they are dominated by large, old trees. The large, old trees in these stands have a common history- they have originated from a single disturbance event that allowed them to establish and take over the forest canopy. So although we tend to think of "old forests" as something immortal, or forever in that state- these stands started as young thickets of trees- and will eventually breakup into open-canopied, multi-aged forests (that is until another major disturbance starts the process all over again).
To the best of my memory, the fire regime in much of central and eastern Canada and New England and the Great Lake States - below the boreal forest - is characterized by small, patchy, low-intensity fires that occur somewhat frequently (every 30-40 years). (Of course, fire suppression has affected this cycle.)
Added to this is windthrow and other mortality agents (insects, disease, lightening, etc) that affect individual trees and promote what forest ecologists call "gap dynamics" - whereby the proverbial tree falls in the forest, opens a small part of the canopy to sunlight, and the hundreds of saplings of various species that have been growing under the previous canopy of the now fallen giant all compete to fill the canopy gap.
Combined, frequent, small fires and small openings of the canopy, allow the persistence of a multi-age structure of these types of forests (white pine co-dominated). Similar happens in tropical and temperate rain forests. On the other hand, boreal forests, and various other forest types in the east (e.g., pine barrens, oak savannas), are often derived by a single large distrubance event that occurs on longer time scales (e.g. every 70-100 years). These ecosystems depend on fire for renewal.
This is still done for some species (like white pine) on some site types.MikeK wrote:Oh one thing I do remember an old timer telling me was that the 'saw men' left most (1 out of 10 they were supposed to leave or something strange like that) of the big white pines
In modern forestry lingo these are called seed trees.
There is a forestry method called (at least in Ontario) shelterwood harvest, where seed trees are left in situ to provide the best genetic stock for that site to naturally regenerate the forest after logging.
Another reason for leaving these seed trees is that they provide some shade and soil protection for the target species to regnerate and not be as outcompeted by fast growing pioneer species.
Depends on the species and the site. For white pine - the focus of this discussion - there is no hard and fast rule, but we found that stands that had what most consider "old growth" characteristics were generally at least 170 years old, some approached 300 years old. After about 250 or 300 years old white pine trees naturally reach senescence (get old and die) and fall down - creating a canopy gap for new trees to take advantage of.MikeK wrote:How long does it take for an eastern mixed boreal forest to reach maturity? Some of the places in the west haven't been logged for over 100 years.
By comparison, jack pine will rarely reach senescence - a fire burns them down every 70 or so years, so they mature quickly and ready their seed crop for "the big one" to come along and open the seeds and prepare the soil for germentation and the beginning of a new cohort. And some big sitka spruce or douglas firs on the west coast of British Columbia will live for hundreds of years. Bristle cone pine in the Great Basin will live for thousands of years...
Sorry for the ramble. Mostly a trip down memory lane for me and an opportunity to think again about some of those magnificent forests in the northeast. I honestly joined this forum to learn about current XCD equipment offerings - about which you guys are experts!
Oaks are not very prevalent in our mountains. I always noticed this, but never really questioned it. The forests of the Adirondack dome are different than those in the rest of NY.
http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2009/ ... trees.html
Most of the 'old growth' white pines in this region are quite old, usually upwards of 250 years IIRC.
I guess I should pay closer attention, but I really don't notice many (or any) young white pines. They are a distinctive looking tree due to their long needles, so I don't see how I'd miss them. This makes me curious how they get started. Seems like you must need some kind of disturbance to get one to go. I see no shortage of hw sapling in most areas.
Actually the only small white pines I can think of were growing in an old field where I grew up. There was a stand of maybe 5-10 large along a nearby swamp. I assume those ones seeded the ones in the field. When we took over the land, they were maybe 10-12' tall, and very bushy. We let the field naturally re vegetate and I haven't been out there in years, but I'd guess they are double in size.
Another ramble, but like I say, the only young whites I can recall. And virtually no competition from any hardwoods.