Zoar Valley, NY   tdiggins
  Jun 21, 2002 13:11 PDT 

Hi y'all,

I think Zoar Valley's gonna join the 130' foot club, and...it's gonna do it
without any conifers. Whoa! Them's fightin' words from that there New
Yorker! Take a look at what we've got:

Accurately measured by Bob (9/23/01)-

1) Sycamore                          150.2'
2) Tulip tree                            149.5'
3) Eastern cottonwood            133.1'
4) White ash                          132.9'
5) Red oak                             130.8'
6) Walnut                               115.0' (we may have found a taller
example of ~120')

Now, we were very pressed for time in 9/01, so we didn't get 'em all.

Estimates based on nearby measured trees (obviously need verification later
this summer)

7) Bitternut hickory                130-140'+ ...slender tree appears equal
to neighboring 140' sycamores
8) American basswood           125'+ ...appears just a few feet shy of tall
9) Black cherry                      120'+ ...conservative estimate; not
the tallest, but well into the canopy
10) Sugar maple                    110'+ ...lots of beauties, but not as
tall as sycamores and tulips

There are a few hemlocks that are almost certainly over 100', but I don't
think they'll crack the top ten. Other tall species in need of verification
include black locust, red maple, beech, American elm (one of 93' accurately
measured), white and red pine, chestnut oak. Hmmmm...I smell ONE-THIRTY!!
Not bad for north of 42.

Tom Diggins
Zoar Valley, NY   thomas diggins
  Nov 07, 2002 16:46 PST 
Hello to all ENTS!!

My absence from this marvelous discussion group has been FAR too long.
I'm so glad to be back. Unfortunately, I was saddled with a lengthy IT
problem upon arrival at Youngstown State, leaving me without a good
office computer for some time (a long story..it's all fixed now). Well,
after such an absence I could never show my e-face in ENTS land without
some numbers...so here goes...

I've managed this fall to make 6 visits to Zoar Valley, NY, along with a
YSU botanist and a number of students. The major focus of our work has
involved quadrat surveys of canopy trees (30-m quads, all trees over 24"
cbh) on the canyon bottom terraces dubbed by Bruce Kershner the "Gallery
of Giants". Spread over five terraces in the Gallery (totalling 12.7 ha,
or 31 acres), we surveyed 23 quadrats, covering about 1/6 the total
area. This is a very small portion of the probable old growth in Zoar,
which also includes several hundred acres of canyon slope and rim.
However, the terraces seem to hold the tallest trees in the Valley, and
may be the premier hardwood forest in the Northeast (we're gonna have a
good battle going with Cook and Mohawk Trail). A separate survey visit
was dedicated to locating all trees over 100" cbh in the entire Gallery.
Got some GREAT numbers here! Preliminary, of course, but exciting.


1) 16 trees reach canopy status on only 31 acres
2) Between 4 and 9 canopy species per 30-m quad = high local species
diversity (I'm working on indices)
4) Mean cbh in quads ranged from 48 - 68"
5) High coefficient of variation (33 - 50%) for cbh within quadrats =
high local size diversity
6) Largest tree in every quad >80" cbh, in 18 quads >90", in 9 quads
100" (usually multiple large trees/quad)
7) Basal area coverage up to 203 square feet per acre
8) Between 8 and 32 likely "old growth" trees per acre (a qualitative
measure without core data)
9) even a casual collection yielded 18 species of fern

Preliminary statistical analysis reveals decidedly greater variance
within quads than among quads, or among terraces. Variable canopy size
structure and species composition throughout suggest local ecological
dynamics - no evidence of recent systematic disturbance.

At a larger scale, spatially and temporally, it appears fluvial
processes play a major role in the canyon. At the downstream end of
several terraces there are areas of emerging floodplain forest, with
young cottonwood, willow, and alder. A number of islands are even
earlier in succession. Several stranded riverbanks are in evidence,
complete with overhanging roots. Inland from these the forest gets
suddenly older and more impressive. Still, fallen trees pull up
streambed cobbles from just below the surface. Interestingly, several of
Zoar's terraces show a distinct gradation into aged sugar maple and
beech towards their upstream end - exactly where an ancient gravel bar
would have formed first, and where the forest should be the oldest.
Conversely, one of the terraces has a stunning bottomland grove of
cottonwood and sycamore at its downstream margin, right before the creek
cuts back in. The land is dry now, but this spot may have held a
backwater as the terrace was slowly built up and exposed. Two sections
of the Gallery are today being eroded where the river is meandering back
into a terrace, toppling giant trees, but providing extraordinary
exposures of the mature canopy without the obstruction of lower story
edge trees. How many such cycles has Zoar's Gallery of Giants seen in
the last 12,000 years?


Species              # >100" cbh         Largest        Tallest (either  Bob's laser, or my humble estimates)

Tulip                          15                   10' 7"          149.5' (same tree)
Sugar maple                7                    10' 4"         ~110-120' (modest-sized fallen tree of 108')
*Beech                        6               12' 5", 11' 8"     >100'  (none accurately measured)
Sycamore                    6                    11' 4"           150.2'  (different trees)
Eastern cottonwood    6                    13' 0"              133.7' (same tree)
American basswood    5                    9' 4"              ~130'+  (awesome tree! smaller fallen tree of 121')
American elm              2                    9' 0"             ~120'+  (different trees)
White ash                   2                    9' 1"             132.9'   (same tree)
Eastern hemlock         2                     8' 8"              ~120'  (none accurately measured)
Black walnut               2                     9' 3"            115.0' (others in woods may exceed 120')
Red oak                     2                     9' 3"            130.8' (different trees, we may have found a taller one)
Red maple                  1                     9' 1"            100' (none accurately measured)
Bitternut hickory         0               6' 5", maybe 7'    ~135-140'  (a towering specimen)
Black cherry               0              7' 9", maybe 8'     >120'  (none accurately measured)
Shagbark hickory       0                 all < 4'               >100'  (none measured)
Yellow birch              0                      5' 7"               probably all <100', but some show very aged bark
White pine                  ?                       ?                  ?    A very tall specimen needs measuring (>130'?)

*A beech snag of 14' 11" cbh was at one time the largest tree in the

Whew! Obviously a lot of work to do, and a lot of tree heights to
measure accurately. Our occasional forays up the lower slopes suggest
sugar maple, beech, ash, and cherry dominate there, with beautiful, aged
specimens to be found (how tall??? I measured a fallen white ash at
132', very near Bob's tallest standing ash on the terraces). The
hardwoods give way to hemlock and white and red pine on the treacherous
upper slopes, with exceptional chestnut oak along the rim. So many
trees...so little time!

Glad to be back!!
Tom Diggins

ps Congrats to Dave, Fred, Michael, and the NYOGFA on the extraordinary
white pine discoveries in the Daks - 170' in NY? WOW!

Some (more) Zoar Valley, NY, numbers   thomas diggins
  Nov 19, 2002 11:35 PST 
Hello ENTS,

You may remember the THRILLA IN MANILA...

or, perhaps, THE RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE...

Last fall Bob Leverett told us of the SOAR OF ZOAR...

So now, Bruce Kershner and I bring you

Yep, that's right. We slogged down into the Cattaraugus one last time to
some tree heights. Now, a note of caution here - I'm still awaiting
disbursement of grant funds to purchase a range-finder, so we
triangulated based on the tangent, with the adjacent side measured on
the ground with a tape measure. These preliminary heights will need to
be confirmed, more likely adjusted, by laser/sine methods next year.
BTW, after reading the data, scroll
down for "A massive rationalization of crude methods in the face of
economic shortcoming, or why I didn't report a 179 foot red maple!" All
aside, you'll see why Bruce and I are comfortable the "play" in our Zoar
data is
likely in feet, not fathoms.


1) Bitternut hickory 142.1' x 4' 7" (AVG of 141.5', 142.8')
2) White ash           137.2' x 6' 9"
3) Black walnut      128.8' x 7' 7"
4) Black walnut      127.6' x 7' 5" (different trees, similarity a
5) Sugar maple       127.7' x 8' 11" (AVG of 125.3', 130.2')
6) Sugar maple       127.0' x 6' 2" (AVG of 124.6', 130.2')
7) Sugar maple       117.9 x 4' 8"
8) Red oak            126.4' x 7' 0" (Bob's nearby NE champ still holds
9) Am basswood 123.0' x 6' 8"
10) Am basswood 119.0' x 5' 2"
11) Black cherry     115.5' x 6' 7"
12) Am beech        113.9' x 11' 9" (NYS champion?)

OK- "A massive rationalization of crude methods in the face of current economic
shortcoming, or why I didn't report a 179 foot red maple!" by TP Diggins.

Bruce and I generated these preliminary data using a carpenter's protractor
(with plumb bob) and tape measure, triangulating heights by tangent (prone to
MAJOR error on many state tree lists). However, a number of factors make me
confident we greatly minimized such error:

-Leaf-off canopy. Easy to sight to top branches.
-Flat, flat ground. Never more than a few inches between tree base and vantage point.
-Unobstructed walk-ups. We got the tape straight and tight.
-Mostly straight trunks, with narrow, vertically reaching crowns.
(exceptions: the beech and two of the sugars - not as easy to key in on an obvious top branch)

-We did a couple walks between each tree and the vantage point to ascertain the position of the sighted branch over the ground. We corrected the adjacent side
measure when required.
-We chose the vantage points FIRST, based on sight lines to a good branch, THEN did the measuring (i.e., no pre-set 100' pace off, hoping for a good top branch).

-NO unreasonable tree heights. We actually came up short of my previous visual
estimates on some trees. Conveniently, there are laser-measured trees throughout the Gallery that suggest height ranges for nearby unknowns.
-Measurements always ranked neighboring trees in accordance with visually
obvious differences or similarities in height. It was reasonably easy when Zoar's canopy is leafless to gauge relative tree heights from a moderate distance. E.g. #1: The 137' ash was notably taller than the 127' walnut close by. E.g. #2: The 140'+
bitternut markedly exceeded adjacent 119' and 123' basswoods, and even appeared
taller than a nearby sycamore. E.g. #3: The 126' red oak and Bob's nearby 130 footer appear close in height from a distance (I actually thought the new tree might have been taller).


1) A 140' bitternut!!!! Our whoops and hollars were tempered only by the realization
that this tree might get emasculated by more accurate methodology. There are
other skyscarpers down there, but this one seemed to be tops. 
2) A 137' white ash!!! With a laser/sine measured specimen at 132.9', a tape measured fallen tree at 132', and this baby, it's obvious white ash grows exceptionally tall in Zoar. Tall ash abound, so it will be exciting to search for the champ.
3) 125'+ sugar maples!! Wow, I was really underestimating these. Their massive
trunks and gnarled limbs just don't convey height like the slender taper of a
bitternut, or the ghostly white of a sycamore. Obviously, these are going to
need more reliable measurement ASAP. Note that three different trunk diameters all were very tall.
4) 125'+ black walnuts! Right where I thought they were going to be. Bob measured an awesome nine-footer to 115' on the other side of the river, but it has since become apparent it wasn't the Valley's tallest. 
5) Awesomely big American beech! Could be a NYS champion with 141 (cbh) + 114
(height) + 19 (1/4 crown spread) = 274 points.


1) Basswood only to 123'. Hard to cry too much over 120' basswoods, but I really
thought this particular tree would flirt with 130'. Part of my visual estimate problem seemed to stem from my reliance on a neighboring sycamore. The basswoods DO appear to be only ~15' shy of the sycamore, BUT it was obvious with the leaves off
that this particular sycamore is shorter than many others in the grove, possibly
not even to 140'. 
2) The red oak to only 126'. This tree seems insanely tall from beneath; I thought it might have gone above 130'. Nothing personal against Bob's 130 footer, but that tree is next in line along an eroding bank, and there's a real chance it's gonna be in the river some year.
3) Black cherry to only 115'...downright pedestrian! However, the area explored by Bruce and I does not hold the largest cherries in the Valley. There are bigger trees on two terraces unreachable in the high water during our visit.  Gettem' next year.
4) Awesomely big American beech - with honkin' spiral crack that developed in the last month. Added to an incredibly hollow base, this tree could come down this
winter. Nearly all of Zoar's great beeches are either snags or in advanced stages of decay. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be just age. Bark fungus seems pretty heavy. 


1) Elm. A surprisingly frequent member of the canopy, and several age/size classes.
No chance to cross river to leading height contender. Has the looks of 120'+.  Last September Bob measured a beautiful specimen of American elm to 93'. Not that tall, but classic spreading broom shape. BTW, there could be Americans AND reds down there. With buds and twigs five to ten stories up, it's not such an easy call. Elm needs a lot of study in Zoar. 
2) Red maple. Not common, but there are a few giants on the terraces we couldn't visit.
3) Hemlock. All the Valley's biggest hemlock were across the river.


I wouldn't use a Rucker Index including laser/sine AND tangent data to challenge
Cook's and MTSF's laser-only data, but even using the lower values generated by
Bruce and I brings Zoar up above 133'. A couple of measuring parties next year
should probably yield a final Index of 133 - 135'. Not bad for NO CONIFERS in the top ten, EH?

Of course, we're all having a lot of fun with the NE tall-tree-site race, and I know I owe Bob (and probably Dale now as well) cases of beer, but there is a very serious application of the data we've been collecting in Zoar. As a state Multiple Use Area, the Valley is under the jurisdiction of the NYS Department of Environmental Commerciali...er, Conservation, and a dwindling few entrenched bureaucrats in Albany refuse to concede the unmistakable biodiversity value of the canyon's forests. Citizen campaigns for a permanent moratorium on logging in the canyon have met with apathy at best, outright resistance at worst. New Yorkers vividly recall the State's recent attempted old-growth end-run in Allegany State Park, ultimately beaten back by hundreds of citizen-environmentalists.

Tom Diggins
...huggin' trees and takin' names