Cook Forest State Park
Route 36, Cooksburg, Pennsylvania

Eastern Native Tree Society
Spring Gathering 2002
April 20-21, 2002

The Eastern Native Tree Society (ENTS) held its semi-annual gathering at Cook Forest the weekend of April 20-21, 2002. Big Tree hunters and forest lovers from all over the East rallied in the wilderness woods of Cook Forest. The virgin forest was a superb setting an encounter to celebrate big trees and ancient forests.

Forest Ranger Dale Luftinger organized a modest program of activities that included lectures, panel discussions, forest tours, tree climbing, slide shows, home-made videos, and a music jam session. The goal was to explore the Park's biodiversity, aesthetics, natural and human history, and its importance as a National Natural Landmark. The program was free and open to the general public.

The weekend began with a welcome and opening remarks by ENTS co-founder and executive director Bob Leverett. Bob has also been a principal architect for the series of five conferences on Eastern old growth forests co-sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and several Eastern colleges of forestry.

Counting Rings
Arborist Fred Breglia inspects a log
Cook Forest State Park

PHOTO DYarrow 4/20/02

Pennsylvania Forester Gary Gilmore gave a presentation on the impact of white-tailed deer on old growth forest. Due to the lack of predators, over-population by deer has become a widespread problem in many parks and forests. The deer browse seedlings and buds of shrubs and young trees, damaging the understory and lower canopy, and killing off the next generation of trees that are needed to replace older trees as the forest ages. Without recruitment of younger trees, the forest cannot regenerate as the older trees decline and die, casting a shadow over the future of the forest. Gary Gilmore discussed the seriousness of this trouble, and reviewed strategies to mitigate this threat, including reintroduction of predators and fencing off sections of forest. At Cook Forest, an experiment is underway to attempt fencing the deer out of selected sections of the forest.

The Longfellow Pine climb begins
Cook Forest State Park

PHOTO DYarrow 4/20/02

Sadly, a walk through the towering pines of the Forest Cathedral led by Anthony E. Cook, internationally noted author and nature photographer, was canceled because the elder Cook was having knee troubles.

Bob Leverett, the guru of old growth, led a search for the biggest and tallest trees in the forest. Bob described and demonstrated the methods used to measure tree dimensions, and explained which methods work, and which don't and why. Bob relatred numerous humorous tales of mis-measurements and exaggerations born of competitiveness and practical jokes. He also described the kinds of data ENTS is collecting in its historical database of exemplary eastern trees, and why the current champion/big tree lists do not accomplish this objective.

While Bob Leverett led a big tree hunting expedition, NYOGFA's David Yarrow described efforts by the Champion Tree Project to preserve and propagate the genetics of Big Trees. After explaining the Project's strategy for capturing the genetics of open field grown trees, he challenged the participants to develop a similar strategy for harvesting and preserving the genetics of superlative specimens of forest grown trees. The hope is that such potentially superior genetics can be used to regenerate existing old growth forests, and upgrade other forests damaged by decades of high grading by commercially-driven forestry practices.

Up, Up, Up...
The Longfellow Pine climb
Cook Forest State Park

PHOTO DYarrow 4/20/02

After lunch, David led a discussion on whether sustainable forestry and human intervention can regenerate native forest ecosystems into old growth conditions. The intent was to explore ideas for how ENTS can facilitate landowners to dedicate the woodlands to long-term management to regenerate ancient forests. It is a much-debated question whether old growth characteristics can be obtained through sustainable forest management practices after decades of selective harvesting and high-grade cuttings. Some old growth advocates insist that since old growth by definition precludes any human disturbance, it is impossible to create so-called "designer old growth" by sophisticated management and clever harvesttechniques. The one point of consensus was that forests can never recover unless legal structures are created and established that remove land from the cycle of sales that pressures landowners to harvest timber to finance land purchases.

... and away...
climber is in the upper right
Cook Forest State Park

The weekend high point�quite literally�was measuring the tallest white pine in Cook Forest�the Longfellow Pine. Bob Leverett, Dale Luthringer and other big tree hunters, using their high-tech rangefinders and clinometers, made their best ground-level guesses at the true height of this giant white pine. Most agreed it was about 180 feet, accurate to within 3 to 5 feet. Even the most expensive equipment and professional operators can only assure accuracy within +/- one foot.

Only one way can confirm these "twigonometry" gadget guesses: climb the tree and drop a plumb bob from the highest twig. Appalachian arborist and ENTS co-founder and president Will Blozan devoted the afternoon to that challenge. Using ropes and the latest tree-climbing technology, Will and his partner scaled the Longfellow Pine. Their climbing technique avoids using boot-mounted spikes that can gouge and injure a tree, but instead uses a free-climbing technique of friction-based rope equipment similar to the action of an inchworm.

A large crowd of onlookers surrounded the soaring white pine, craning and straining their necks to eyeball and photograph the climbers. Will and his partner were nearly invisible, well over 100 feet above. The ascent by both climbers took nearly two hours, and yielded an accurate measurement of 180 feet 11 inches, accurate to +/- one inch. This historic climb confirmed the Longfellow White Pine as the Pennsyvania Champion, and a record for the Northeast. While swinging in the tree top, Will filmed an eagle-eye video of the Cook Forest canopy.

it's bird, it's a plane...
ENTS members watch the big tree climb
Cook Forest State Park

PHOTO DYarrow 4/20/02

Saturday evening after dinner, participants gathered in the Sawmill Theater for videos, slide shows, and art presentations by ENTS members. Will Blozan displayed his videotapes of his most remarkable climbs of Eastern Hemlocks, White Pine and Loblolly Pines, revealing a bird's eye view of Eastern old growth forests from 150 feet above ground. Will described the unusual epiphytic plants he finds growing high in these eastern giants, and explained the precautions and care that must be taken to avoid injury to both trees and epiphytic communities.

... into the canopy
approaching the lowest limbs
Cook Forest State Park

PHOTO DYarrow 4/20/02

After this stunning video presentation, NYOGFA member Bruce Kershner ended the evening with a slide show tour of the last primeval forests of Pennsylvania. Bruce's usual energetic and entertaining presentation was keyed to a state map he handed out with all these finest old growth forests marked and labeled.

Saturday night brought a real surprise at the Log Cabin Inn when NYOGFA members Fred Breglia and Tom Diggins joined in a jam session to cook up a hot session of homemade music. The music was so lively and hot even the Turtle almost burst into dance. Meanwhile, their audience joined in occasional sing-alongs and demolished a stack of hot pizzas.

Unfortunately, Sunday, cool, moist weather turned colder and wetter, with even an occasional flurry of snowflakes. Undeterred by this unfavorable weather, participants headed into the forest to search for more giants among the hemlocks and pines. Separating into four teams, they combed the forest to find and document the tallest trees of Cook Forest. While they found many remarkable white pine and hemlock, Cook Forest also contains many monster black cherry, northern red oak, white oak, and yellow birch. But as the day got longer the weather got worse.

At lunch, the survey teams gathered in a shelter to dry out and warm up as they compared measurements, compiled data and traded tales. The purpose of this exercise wasn't merely a competition to find the biggest, but to generate a database suitable to characterize Cook Forest, and assess whether indeed Cook Forest is the premiere old growth site in Pennsylvania, and perhaps the Northeast. Over the next several years, this database can serve as a baseline for future studies which can illuminate the growth potential of various species under diverse growing conditions, soil types and climate zones.

in the tree top
climber is just below center
Cook Forest State Park

PHOTO DYarrow 4/20/02

After a few closing remarks from Bob Leverett, participants lingered at length saying goodbyes and trading promises to stay in touch and exchange information.

One item of discussion was the idea that the next ENTS meeting may be right here in New York. If not this year, then next. After all, New York has the most ancient forest of any state outside the Smoky Mountains, and has many sites which could provide an exemplary environment for ENTS members to gather for more big tree measurements, strategic discussions and celebrations.