Official Old Growth Forest Awareness in MA and MN Bob Leverett
July 31, 2009


Over the next few weeks, I plan to photograph more of areas of native red pine habitat in Massachusetts. Ill send pictures and will be interested to see if you continue to observe habitat parallels to areas in Minnesota.
Here in Massachusetts, the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program is probably aware of 90%(I'm guessing) of the natural occurrences of red pine in Massachusetts, but they don't make that information available to the general public for obvious reasons. At one point I knew more than they did. I shared all the places I knew with them, but I think that they've since picked up data on outlier red pine communities that I haven't seen.
With returned mobility of movement, I plan to get to as many places as possible to photograph, measure, and document our forest treasures here in Massachusetts - with a concentration on individual trees, of course.
In pursuit of that mission, tomorrow, Monica and I go to visit the champion red spruce (height-wise) on Mount Greylock. I haven't seen the tree in at least 3 growing seasons - actually 4, I think. I have high expectations for it. I'm hoping for 135 feet.
If you recall the Williamstown conference and our field trip into the Greylock Hopper, where the spruce grows, was where you and I first met. You picked out old fire signs in an oak stand on Greylock for me. That occurred in 1994 at the second old growth forest conference in our continuing Eastern Ancient Forest Conference Series. If you recall, we also held a concurrent old growth forest definitions symposium at Harvard Forest and again in 1998.
O ne of the local objectives of that second conference was to involve the then Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and introduce its resource people to the thinking of ecologists and other scientists doing research in eastern old growth forests. At the time, most of the folks in the Massachusetts Bureau of Forestry (including the chief forester) held that the old growth forest remnants in Massachusetts were composed almost entirely of diseased, decadent, and over-mature trees in earnest need of removal - except for a couple of small areas retained for historical reasons. We've come a long way since those days. We have an old growth protection policy. However, there is a push developing today to increase the amount of young, early successional habitat on DCR lands, presumably to the benefit of species that thrive in that kind of habitat. Presumably that won't impact the old growth, but could impact mature, exemplary second growth. I fear that an underlying motive for calling for the increase of young, early successional habitat is to soften public resistance to future clear cutting (cast under euphemistic descriptions) on DCR lands to feed planned biofuels projects. The price of protection is eternal vigilance.
From your experience, what is the current "state of awareness" about Minnesota's old growth ecosystems among state-level natural resource people in Minnesota? You've spoken to that in the past, but we all see that the forces of exploitation wear many disguises. What are the current trends for both state and federal agencies? Do state designated areas of old growth carry statutory protections or just administrative ones easy to abandon?
At the federal level, this past July, I was impressed with how much the San Juan National Forest resource people know about their old growth and the extent to which NF officials have gone to protect it. Of the nearly 2,000,000 acres of the San Juan NF and co-located BLM lands, close to 70% of it is classified as unsuited for timber management, and I might add, when one ventures out into that 70%, if one had doubts, they are quickly erased. Remote and rugged!
I'll close with an image taken this past July from the San Juans. The location is Lobo Lookout astride the continental divide. The view looks eastward and toward a band of showers that didn't quite reach Monica and me. I was at about 11,500 feet altitude when I snapped the image. As you can see, the slopes are heavily forested. Englemann spruce and sub-alpine fir are the two primary species and they fairly quickly attain significant height.
One can wander through long, snaking meadows near timberline, encountering stands of impressive trees tucked into sheltered spots. The zone that reflects the changeover from forest to tundra is very complicated in the San Juans.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Lee Frelich"
Sent: Friday, July 31, 2009
Subject: [ENTS] Re: Mt Tom Adventures


Looks like the Boundary Waters in northern MN. Just take out the forest
and farms below and replace with a hundred feet of water, and it would
look just like the Pine Lake and Fowl Lake area at the east end of the
Boundary Waters. We have millions of dwarf and semi-dwarf red pine on
basalt, granite and greenstone cliffs there.


1302K View Download

Lee Frelich wrote (July 31, 2009)


I saw that 130 foot red spruce during the conference in 1994--can't
believe it was that long ago.

Regarding your questions:
In MN and WI, inventories have been done and most existing old growth is
known and reserved in some way.

We have an old-growth reserve system in MN with about 48,000 acres in
it, all on state owned land. It was intended to provide examples of old
growth for all forest types and ecological regions of the state. Most of
this is administrative, but at a high level, by declaration of the
governor. It would be very hard to reverse. About 30 or 40% of the
old-growth stands are also within state parks or natural areas and have
a higher statutory level of protection. We also have several hundred
thousand acres of other primary forest, much of which is old growth, in
designated wilderness (Boundary Waters Canoe Area), or in parks, private
preserves, or dwarf forest.

Old growth issues are regularly discussed and planned for at the
administrative level at the headquarters within the Department of
Natural Resources. In field offices, awareness and attitude vary a lot,
with some who think old growth is a waste and know almost nothing and
others extremely interested in it.

The national forest staff in our region have plans for protecting old
growth, or in some cases creating secondary old growth because there is
almost no primary old growth left. On the vast Superior NF, which is
almost the size of MA, there is a lot of old growth within the
wilderness, and they don't think it necessary to have additional old
growth elsewhere. Chippewa and Chequamegon-Nicollet National Forests
have almost no true old growth,but they have either wilderness areas
that will approach old growth status in a few decades or special
management zones where forest will be allowed to get older than on the
rest of the landscape, with some sort of minimal selection harvest
taking place. Some of these are quite large, as much as 20,000 acres.


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