Old Growth Forest Ecology Teachers Workshop, CFSP. PA Edward Frank
August 8, 2009


Over the past two days, Dale Luthringer has been conducting a Teacher's Workshop at Cook Forest State Park and other areas focusing on old growth forest ecology.   The blurb for the program was:

  Cook Forest State Park and the North Central Region Math/Science Education Collaborative will be conducting an 'Old Growth Forest Ecosystems Teacher Workshop' on 8/6-7/09.  This two-day workshop will emphasize identification of old growth forest characteristics when delineating forest types between ancient and younger age stands within Cook Forest State Park, Hearts Content, and Anders Run Natural Areas.   Various forest mensuration tools and techniques will be utilized.  Advanced tree identification via ancient bark character and shape will be presented as well as field identification of reptiles, birds, and amphibians associated with old growth forests.  Teachers will receive a copy of  'Eastern Old Growth Forests: Prospects for Rediscovery and Recovery' by Mary Byrd Davis and will have the option to receive ACT 48 hours.

 learning to use a Biltmore stick

When I first saw the announcement, I immediately volunteered to help hime with the workshop, not that I actually thought I could be much help.  I figured I could pass things out, help the teachers with their tree identification, and perhaps slap a few around who got out of hand.   Really I just want to take the course for my own information.  

I arrived early Thursday morning because the computer I donated to their nature center was malfunctioning again and I wanted to try and fix it before the workshop.  That didn't work, but by 8:00 or so people were starting to arrive.  Altogether a couple dozen people or so were taking the workshop.  Dale had morning snacks for everyone and soon after doing some paperwork everyone settled down for the course.  Dale first outlined the schedule for the next two days and then launched into a power point presentation on old growth forests.  

I must say the presentation was very informative.  He discussed various characteristics that could be used to tell if a tree was old.  These ranged from size, to upturned branches and reiterations, to stag-head crowns, to curved limbs, various types of bark characteristics. From here he went on to discuss the general characteristics of old growth forests that cold be seen in the field,  Most of the photos were from Cook Forest, but he also used examples from other sites he has visited in Pennsylvania - Anders Run, Gettysburg, Erie, various cemeteries.  He also had shots from the Niagara Gorge near Niagara Falls, NY and ONT.  Overall it was a fantastic presentation.  I have been encouraging (read as brow beating) him to write an article outlining the characteristics he is using to determine what trees are old and estimate their ages in the field for publication on the ENTS list, the website, and perhaps the Bulletin.  The photos he had were great and I learned quite a bit because it was presented in an organized way rather than the hit and miss way myself, and perhaps any of you are picking up this type of information.  You really start noticing certain characteristics in the field when they are on your mid.  Sure you may have noticed them before, and they may have been in the back of your mind, but once you focus on something I have found you begin to see more and more of them as you are exploring.  That is true of old-growth limb characteristics, small species such as hawthorns, or any of a myriad of other features,  Once they are in you thoughts, you see more of them.

After the presentation Dale demonstrated how to use a Biltmore stick.  I am sure it was fun to try and learn how to use one.  If you are proficient in using one in the forest, perhaps you can quickly collect many diameter measurements.  However in the case of the teachers the process of measuring diameter with a stick was slow, and many of the readings were hideously bad.  They would have been better off in terms of speed and accuracy to simply use a D-tape.  But the point was to expose them to different measuring techniques and a Biltmore stick is one of them.

 "Preacher arms" on a white pine.

From here Dale went over tree identification using some trees right beside the Log Cabin Inn.  He pointed out white pine, eastern hemlock, beech, yellow birch, black cherry, and black birch.  The focus was on looking at the bark as a distinguishing factor in the identification.  He also had everyone smell the scent from the cambium of of the birches ad black cherry.    From here we went up the Longfellow trail to the edge of the old growth.  here he pointed out the different characteristics found on the bark of old white pine and hemlock trees, limb patterns he had shown in photos earlier, coarse woody debris, standing dead snags, trees in a row from nurse logs, a white oak bent and twisted by age a and a big lightening scar.  he discusses the role of deer population in the lack of regeneration in the understory of the old growth forest.  How we have lost several age families of seedling and saplings over the past seventy years because of over browsing.

 Working on the transect

After this we headed up to the Seneca Pine.  he talked about other things on the way such as nurse logs, recycling of CWD, fungus and moss.  Once at the Seneca Pine the people taking the course were given their first fieldwork assignment.  They were to run a transect of 50 meters in length, 10 meters wide through the old growth forest, noting and measuring the girth any living trees greater than 24" in diameter within the transect., any standing dead trees with a diameter greater than 20" in the transect, ad any downed trees that crossed the center line of the transect that were greater than 20" in diameter.  For the fallen trees the entire length of the fallen log was noted as well as the upper and lower diameters of the log.  In addition they were to note other tree species present that were there, but too small for inclusion  the calculation, any birds seen or heard, and to look for whatever amphibians present in the area in springs or under logs and rocks.  This is a somewhat simplified version of a more thorough transect, but appropriate for the time constraints and for demonstration purposes.  They stretched out tapes, used the Biltmore sticks, and D-tapes, looked under logs and jotted down all the information.  Those who are taking the workshop for additional credit will complete a "homework" assignment from data collected on this transect, and similar transects conducted at each of the four different sites we visited.  The transect ran from near the base of the Cornstalk pine out to almost the intersection of the Indian trail ad the Longfellow trail, by the National Natural Landmark sign for those of you who are familiar with the site.  By this time we were running late and we did not make the trip further out the Longfellow Trail to the Longfellow Pine, nor out to the downed 436 year-old Cucumbertree.  On the way back Dale stopped and demonstrated how the increment borer worked taking a core from a large hemlock tree and successfully not getting the bit stuck.  I have some videos of portions of these discussions that I will post over the next few days.

 Shaggy red maple in maple Drive area

We returned to the Log Cabin Inn and after a short break headed over to the Maple Drive area of the park to look at a different type of old-growth forest.  Dale pointed out some old growth characteristics at the site.  Then he cored a section of an old white oak tree demonstrating the tree was at least 150 years old as he suggested based upon estimates based upon bark and limb characteristics.  Everyone did another transect and collected data.  After this a short walk through a portion of the area took us to some other old trees.  There were fallen trees with an upturned root clump - pit and mound topography.  There was one of the shaggiest red maples I have ever seen, ad a number of tree species was had not encountered in the Forest Cathedral area of the park.  End of Day 1.

 Maple Drive area

Day 2 started with everyone meeting at the Log Cabin Inn there at Cook Forest and car pooling to Anders Run Natural Area farther north near Warren, PA.  I had never actually visited there before.  I had driven past it many times as it is along the road to the uppermost of the islands in the Allegheny River Islands Wilderness.  We parked along the road across from the snag of the Cornplanter Pine, once the largest volume pine in PA, now dead.  There were a number of old trees and different species here for the teachers to see.  

 Beech Bark disease

The beech in this area are being hit hard by Beech Bark Disease.  The disease results when bark, attacked and altered by the beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga Lind., is invaded and killed by fungi, primarily Nectria coccinea var. faginata Lohman, Watson, and Ayers, and sometimes N. galligena Bres.  http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/fidls/beechbark/fidl-beech.htm The little white bumps that are the first stage of the disease were visible on most of the beech trees that were not already dead.  

There were some really nice examples of coral fungus.  One person found an intact porcupine skull complete with teeth, and we even found an uncommon orchid growing along the trail.  I need to look up the species, We ran another transect at this site along the stream flat that runs between the stream and the road.  

 Coral Fungus

Spotted Coral Root

From here we left for the Hearts Content Scenic Area in the Allegheny National Forest. This is perhaps the second best site in Pennsylvania to see large white pines and hemlocks.  http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/allegheny/recreation/camping/heartsco...
  "In the mid 1800's, a 20 acre parcel was protected from logging by the Wheeler and Dusenbury Lumber Company. This parcel of original forest, often called "old growth" or "virgin" timber was donated to the Forest Service in 1922. In the following decades, more land was purchased to make up the Allegheny National Forest as we know it today. In 1934, the virgin timber area and 102 acres of the land surrounding it was designated a "Scenic Area" by the Chief of the Forest Service. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the pavilions and the campground south of the road in 1936. The Scenic Area was dedicated as a National Natural Landmark in 1977. The original forest was a mixture of white pine, Eastern hemlock, and American beech, with a multi-layered understory of hobble bush, witch hazel, and many other species. Time, weather, insects, and disease have all affected the forest in different ways, along with a high population of deer. These have changed, and will continue to change, the species composition - the look and feel - of this forest with implications far into the future. The oldest of the existing trees, mostly white pine and Eastern hemlock, are estimated at 300-400 years old. Many of the other trees in the stand are younger and have come in through natural succession, displaying multiple vertical layers of vegetation typical of a natural - not human-influenced - forest and occasional open gaps where large old trees have fallen and young seedlings and saplings are filling in to renew the forest."

 fat hemlock at Hearts Content


  "There are gnarly old beech snags amid a carpet of ferns. The ferns themselves are an indicator of a major problem in this forest.  The ferns are almost the only plants not eaten by the over-abundant deer. Deer browsing in the past has removed virtually all of the understory shrubs and tree seedlings. It is exciting for visitors who come here regularly to note that this is changing, in part because of installation of protective fencing to keep the deer out. Now saplings as much as five feet tall can be seen scattered through the understory, a condition that wasn't possible in the past several decades.  The forest is changing, in spite of all diligence on the part of humans. Disease plays a large role in these changes. Beech bark scale is killing most of the large beech trees. It can be seen on the big beech trees as tiny white spots scattered over the smooth light gray bark. Smaller beech trees continue to sprout from the spreading roots of the dying larger trees, but they rarely grow to maturity. This is a problem, since the beech saplings come to dominate many areas of the forest floor and crowd out other trees that would grow more successfully. Beech saplings can be spotted easily in the winter because they retain their papery tan leaves."

 white pine crown

This area certainly is changing.  There are an exceptionally high number, in my opinion, of standing dead white pines and dead hemlocks compared to the number of older living trees.   I am not sure why so many of the large old white pines seem to be dying.  Maybe Dale has a different perspective on the area. I don't know.  We ran our fourth transect through a section of this site, then continued around the interpretive trail.  I found myself taking many photos of crown structure in the old hemlock and white pine canopy trees.  

 conjoined beech and hemlock trees

There were a couple of other trees I want to mention that caught my eye.  One was a pair of white pine and beech trees that were growing together right beside the trail  This was an excellent example of what we called conjoined trees in out Multitrunk discussions earlier.  

 Cucumber tree hanging on

Another was a snag of cucumbertree, perhaps ten feet high and a foot in diameter - only it wasn't exactly a snag.  It was weathered and broken, but near the top was a single green shoot of a branch, wilted, but alive growing upward along the tree surface.  It was somehow still alive.  

 Bonus photo - Dale Luthriger counting rings on a 170+ year old fallen white pine

After leaving this site, everyone headed back to Cook Forest where the teachers had evaluations ad other paperwork to complete.  Earlier in the day I had offered to take anyone interested on a quick hike back to the Longfellow Pine and the cucumbertree at Cook Forest.they had missed because of time constraints earlier. When I mentioned it, many people seemed interested, but by the time the end of the day was here, only one person took me up on the offer.

I posted two short video clips from the workshop on YouTube:

Old Growth Forest Ecology Teachers Workshop http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUS0nteLv3o

Dale Luthringer discussing aspects of the old growth forest at Cook Forest State Park, PA, USA during an Old Growth Forest Ecology Teachers Workshop held there on August 06-07, 2009. Dale Luthringer discussing aspects of the old growth forest at Cook Forest State Park, PA, USA during an Old Growth Forest Ecology Teachers Workshop held there on August 06-07, 2009.

Using an Increment Borer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWsqGoNji4o&feature=PlayList&p=785729A...

Tree coring demonstration given by Dale Luthringer as part of an Old Growth Forest Ecology Teachers Workshop held at Cook Forest State Park, PA, USA on August 6-7, 2009.

Ed Frank


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