Mt Everett Old Forest   Robert Leverett
  May 25, 2002 17:22 PDT 

   Today Tom Wessels, Kevin Caldwell, David Graves, Eleanor Tillinghast,
Bernie Drew, and I explored the boundaries of an old growth area on the
side of Mt Everett in the southern Taconics. The good new is that there
is more than we thought. The bad news is that the terrain is punishingly
steep with many forays through Mountain Laurel required. I am guessing
that before we've completed our survey, we will have confirmed at least
250 acres of old growth on the big mountain and its sister peak, Mt.

In addition there are old growth swaths on adjacent Mount Race
and in Sages Ravine. Before we're finished our survey, the surviving old
growth in the southern Taconics, including what grows on the eastern and
western sides (Bashbish Mtn, Alander, Mtn, etc.) may exceed 500 acres!
This would make the southern Taconics the third largest region of old
growth in the state. The Deerfield River Gorge is first, Mount Greylock
second, the southern Taconics third, and Mt Wachusett fourth. The
Deerfield River Gorge has around 1,000 acres. Mount Greylock has about
half that. If we're right, the Southern Taconics will have about 500
acres. Wachusett Mtn has about 250. The total for the state will likely
exceed 2,500 acres. I'm guessing that the Mass total will reach 2,700


Southern Taconics   Robert Leverett
  May 26, 2002 18:29 PDT 

       For the past couple of days Tom Wessels, Eleanor Tillinghast, David
Graves, myself, Kevin Caldwell (yesterday), Bernie Drew (yesterday), and
John Knuerr (today) have been searching Mt. Everett State Reservation for
forest treasures. Some of you may know Dr. Tom Wessels through his book
"Reading the Forested Landscape". Tom is helping the Southern Taconic
Research and Conservation Center comb Mount Everett State Reservation,
looking for clues to the history of its forests.
        Yesterday we added a significant amount of old growth acreage to the
Southern Taconics total. The confirmation is on Mt. Undine and Mt. Everett.
Old gnarled Hemlock, Northern Red Oak, Black Birch, Red Maple, and White
Pine make of the bulk of the species. If yesterday was a success, today was
a super success. We added another significant chunck of old growth to the
inventory and we didn't touch the boundaries. Today the showpiece featured
gnarled Northern Red and White Oaks. In fact, we've identified the largest
cach of old growth White Oak in Massachusetts. Tom Wessels spotted two
healthy American Chestnuts. One measures 2.9 feet around and reaches the
impressive height of 66.3 feet! A new record. Tom guessed a height of 65
feet. He has a good eye.
        The area impressed Dr. Wessels mightily. He stated categorically
that he had not seen the equal of it for old growth White Oak in New
England. The gnarly forms match anything either of us have seen. They grow
in the ice zone. The twisted, contorted forms equal or surpass what we find
even on Mount Wachusetts. Age of the oaks appear to be between 200 and 300+
years. All species in the area are in old growth condition.
        Tom and I agree that the acreage of old growth in the Southern
Taconics is going to exceed 500 acres! It may well exceed 700 and there is a
chance that it will exceed 1000! Here we define old growth as consisting of
those areas that:

        (1) Include an abundance of canopy trees exceeding 150 years of age.

        (2) Show no visible signs of human disturbance.

        (3) Include the typical signs of random natural disturbances
including woody debris, tip up mounds, etc.

        What is especially significant about the old growth on Mount Everett
is that it comes in all sizes and shapes. The ridge tops of the southern
Taconics are composed of highly resistant schists. There is very little soil
to support tree growth. The impacts of wind and ice are substantial. So the
result is an elfin forest of bizarre shapes, except in protected areas where
tree size increases quickly.
        To date, the tree species I've observed on Mount Everett include:

        1. White Pine
        2. Eastern Hemlock
        3. Pitch Pine
        4. Red Spruce
        5. Sugar Maple
        6. Red Maple
        7. Striped Maple
        8. Mountain Maple
        9. Northern. Red Oak
        10. Chestnut Oak
        11. Black Oak
        12. White Oak
        13. Yellow Birch
        14. White Birch
        15. Gray Birch
        16. Black Birch
        17. American Beech
        18. American Basswood
        19. Hop Hornbeam
        20. American Hornbeam
        21. American Chestnut
        22. Witch Hazel
        23. White Ash
        24. Tuliptree
        25. Shagbark Hickory
        26. Pignut Hickory
        27. Black Cherry
        28. Slippery Elm
        29. Bigtooth Aspen

        I'm probably missing several species of trees. I think there are
around 33 or 34 on the mountain. At the bottom of Everett along the streams
there will be a couple of species of Willow and probably Eastern Cottonwood.
I'm being ratehr arbitrary as to what I call a tree versus a shrub. For
instance, I'm calling Mountain Laurel a shrub.
        The Southern Taconics are a treasure to be cherished and protected.
The  website will be the primary vehicle for keeping people
informed about the research and discoveries. However, I'll regularly report
about the region on this listserve.

Southern Taconics Continued   Robert Leverett
  May 27, 2002 06:41 PDT 

        Information on the Southern Taconics both the human and natural
history will increasingly unfold thanks to the coalition of people and
organizations interested in their preservation. The Southern Taconics
Research and Conservation Center will act as the funding arm for a variety
of studies and research efforts.

    Our focus is:

        1. Ecology of Mount Everett's summit,
        2. Ecology of other Taconics peaks,
        3. Old growth areas of the Southern Taconics
        4. Human land use history of Southern Taconics

        Until this past weekend, Mount Everett loomed as a big scenic,
weather-making dome with some pockets of old growth and an unusual natural
community of dwarf pitch pines on its summit. Now it looms as a reserve of
old growth forest that will prove to be much more substantial than we
previously realized. The estimates of old growth acreage based on
approximate boundaries to what we are gradually confirming will almost
certainly prove to encompass as much as 350 acres of forest dominated by
trees in the 175 to 300-year age class and 500-600 acres of forest in the
150+ year age class. If we combine the areas that likely never received any
direct human use other than the effects of human set fires with areas that
received some activity in the early to Mid-1800s and basically nothing
since, we definitely can encompass close to 800 acres. We need a lot of age
analysis though and a terrain mapping. This is a big project, but one that
will prove worth every minute of our efforts.

        The rugged terrain of Mount Everett, its large elevation gain from
the basal lowlands (1950 feet), its weather making summit, its absence of
human structures make it a logical focus and center piece of the
conservation movement for the Southern Taconics. The big mountain is our
flagship. It was always an exciting place, but as a consequence of our
mind-boggling old growth discovery of yesterday, it looms as THE old growth
icon of all Massachusetts. Yesterday's discovery was that significant.

Mt. Everett   Kevin Caldwell
  May 27, 2002 14:20 PDT 
I must say that as a So.Apps OG snob, I was not expecting to find the
acreage or quality in such an easily scalp-able location as we found
with Tom Wessels, Bob, Elenor, et al on Sat (and their subsequent Sunday
troves). Short of the aerial photo showing some sizable crowns, I'd not
expect such fun stuff to be in such a 'level', accessible place. There
goes the 'rock and ice' theory. And in the face of extensive

And though not really 'forest' ecosystems Bob forgot to note the
presence of extensive barrens / glade systems fingering in between the
Pine / Oak-Heath, Hemlock/Pine/Oak, and Hemlock forests on the south
facing ridgelines of Mt. Undine. These contained very small and probably
very old, 25% or less cover of white and pitch pine, northern red oak,
hemlock, and red maple with NICE colonies of lowbush blueberry, black
huckleberry, and mats and mats and mats of reindeer lichen on much
exposed rock. The rare moths found on the summit are likely found here
as well. They seemed small in the field, but show to be quite large on
the aerials after field time. Small sphagnum seeps were even scattered
amongst them - first I've seen on a mountain ridgeline.

(Also Bob, add downy serviceberry, mountain ash, and of course, any
species from Pam W's summit species list to yours.) Little did I know
that a rare Mtn Ash is known in MA, but is more a northwestern state item
(Sorbus decora)...I didn't even think to check the single specimen we saw
on Saturday.

Of note is the apparent presence of the state rare Mountain Holly (Ilex
montana), a commoner for the southern areas, but endemic to the Apps at
large and considered "Threatened" in MA. Mountain holly was the first
species that made me quiver with the notion that maybe not individual
stems, but entire root clusters of crown forming shrubs might be hundred
or 1000's of years in age. Tom Wessels agreed its I. montana and was
amazed at the huge, multi-stemmed clusters of them. We yanked a dead
stem of maybe 3 inched diameter-knee-height for me to saw into and have
a look for rings. However, I see that Pam Weatherbee's species list from
the Everett summit includes I.verticillata (which is supposedly a
wetland species) and Nemopanthus mucronatus - the other 'mountain
holly', so I'm not declaring the rarity it yet.

Of interest is the apparent find of a single specimen of Bartram's
Shadbush (Amel. bartramiana) though the habitat isnt wet, and the remote
possibility of the having found a population of the state Endangered
"Houghton's Flatsedge" (Cyperus houghtonii)in the glades / barrens area.
It has less than 5 populations in MA. These rare possibles get sent to
the longtime local pros - the s.Apps kid needs further verification.

Bob, I'll keep you and the ENTS posted if interested (though we're
supposed to be about trees...) And thanks to all who went along. A day
in the field with Bob and Co. makes the dreary eastern MA life bearable.

Kevin Caldwell


Old Growth Interpretations   Robert Leverett
  May 27, 2002 17:17 PDT 

        The success of the New York Old Growth Association (NYOGA), our
finds here in Massachusetts, confirmations by Dr. Rick Van de Poll and Chris
Kane in New Hampshire, and the extensive OG discoveries of the Southern
Appalachian Forest Coalition led by Rob Messick prompt one to ask the
question, why has so much been missed, especially on public lands. The
simple part of the answer is because the resource managers in charge of
state and national forests failed to recognize the old growth - even when
under their noses. The difficult part of the answer is why have they failed
to recognize old growth. Who was looking? What were they expecting to see?

        Well, part of the answer to that question was evident by yesterday's
very significant discovery of old growth on the southeastern slopes of Mount
Everett. Our group was whooping and hollering at each old growth form we
saw. We recognized the signs of advanced age in each tree species: Northern
red Oak, White Oak, Black Birch, White Pine, Eastern Hemlock, Red Maple,
Pitch Pine. But none of the trees were exceptionally big and some were
diminuitive. Tom Wessels is especially good at interpreting events that gave
rise to the bizarre shapes we saw. Each tree had a story to tell and it is
quite a worthwhile experience walking the woods with Tom as he interprets
signs of various disturbance events. But what do you want to bet that the
managers responsible for the forest we were in would have missed 90% of what
Tom saw? They would likely still have associated size and age together.

        Much of the old growth forest on Mount Everett and its sister
summits will turn out to be trees between 14 and 28 inches in diameter and
be 45 to 65 feet in height. There will be nothing imposing about their size.
Not hints from girth or height as to age. Yet we will confirm tree after
tree to ages of 150 to 300 years and a small percentage over that - possibly
some of the Hemlocks to well over 400 years. We will comb the big mountain
taking sufficient samples until we can develop age and disturbance profiles
for the entire mountain. It will take us 2 to 3 years, but we will do it.
The mountain deserves no less.

        We need to develop a new criteria for interpreting these forests
that we're labeling old growth - perhaps develop an index of "naturalness".
A forest that has been shaped almost completely by natural forces over a
period of time would receive a higher index value the lesser the human
influences were shaping forces and the longer the natural forces were in
control. A recently cut forest would go to near zero. A clearcut would be
zero. Anyone have some thoughts about such an index? There are pitfalls.
What if the human disturbances are restoration efforts?

        Regardless, of how the index were constructed, it would be worth a
nickle if yesterday's find didn't rank near 100%.

RE: Southern Taconics   Leverett, Robert
  May 28, 2002 09:39 PDT 

   The Mt. Everett old growth discoveries are going to change everything. That is a given. There is no point in attempting to refine the acreages until we investigate these new locations and do more exploring on the southwestern shoulder of Everett. Some of the OG habitat is going to be extremely significant in terms of the diversity of forest types represented. The growing research effort is something I think Mass Audubon might be interested in supporting. The Southern Taconics Research and Conservation Center (STRACC) could use some of Tom Rawinski's time. Hey, I'll even go out there and plant bottles of fine Kentucky Bourbon at key locations and give only Tom the GPS coordinates of the locations. Someone else has to assume responsibility for getting him off the mountain, though.

Southern Taconics   Robert Leverett
  May 28, 2002 17:53 PDT 

        As part of our study of the southern Taconics, we want to understand
the human history of Mount Everett. We want to know who the land owners were
and as much as we can learn about their activities. We want to develop
forest age profiles for the entire mountain. In time we intend for Mount
Everett to be one of the best understood peaks in New England. Those who
love the mountain will have the opportunity to learn ever more about its
human and natural histories. In time others will come to know the mountain
more intimately and appreciate it. We do not want Everett to ever fall prey
to development interests, timber interests, high impact recreation. But
could all the extra attention we give the mountain backfire? Well, not
likely so long as the trail network is not expanded. Off trail travel on
Mount Everett is extremely difficult. Mountain laurel and bear oak on the
summit and laurel and steep slopes off teh summit make going very difficult.
Dr. David Orwig reminded me today of just how difficult when he described a
trip by himself and Glen Motzkin, both of Harvard Forest. They climbed down
from the summit area to a barren point to the southeast to examine more
pitch pines. It took Dave abd Glen over an hour to make it to their
destination, going through the laurel. The trip could otherwise have been
made in perhaps 15 minutes. Such is the nature of the big domed mountain.
From a distance, its pleasing, rounded summit contours are deceptive. It is
a mountain of many moods.

Re: Taconics and OG Definitions   Lee E. Frelich
  May 29, 2002 06:54 PDT 

With regard to Mount Everett forests and your comments about the mountain
laurel and bear oak and how difficult they make it for travel across the
mountain, don't forget that the presence of oak forests probably means
there were fires in the past and it may not have been as shrubby then as it
is now. Those shrubs have thin bark and would easily be killed, or at least
top killed by fires. The current condition with fire exclusion may not be
what was there over the last several centuries. The fact that the older
hemlocks are located in refuges protected from fire by topography (i.e.
rocky areas or around the pond) also supports the notion of frequent fires
in the past.
Mt. Everett pics   David Graves
  Jun 02, 2002 15:43 PDT 

Follow this URL and open the "Everett" photo album to see pics from the Mt. Everett forest survey conducted by Tom Wessels and Bob Leverett. This are low-res pics. I should have the hi-res soon.


Ecological Significance of the Mount Everett Summit

Robert T. Leverett, Executive Director
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
December 8, 1999
Revised January 24, 2000 82 pages

Also available here:  Mt. Everett Preliminary Report

Preliminary Evaluations and Recommendations for Additional Research and Protection, Prepared for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management and Town of Mount Washington, Massachusetts. by Robert T. Leverett, Executive Director, Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest, December 8, 1999, Revised January 24, 2000.  The summit of Mount Everett is covered by approximately 20 acres of dwarfed pitch pines and associated plants. Compared with the other southern Taconic mountains, Mount Everett has the densest coverage of dwarf pitch pines over the greatest area. Only Race Mountain and to a lesser extent Bear Mountain approximate the pervasive dwarfing, density, and acreage of the pitch-pine community on Mount Everett. In Massachusetts, dwarf pitch pine communities represent less than one thousandth of one percent of the state’s land area.  In New England, similar mountaintop dwarf pitch-pine communities are found only on Mount Cardigan in New Hampshire and Mount Desert Island in Maine. Smaller examples may exist but collectively their contribution is minuscule. In the northeast, the Shawangunk mountains in New York are the only other locations typically cited for extensive summit dwarf pitch-pine communities.