Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest  



FMTSF has a distinguished record of fostering public awareness of and appreciation for the old growth forest remnants in the eastern United States in general and Massachusetts in particular. The local mission of Friends is well known within DCR. However, the broader mission of Friends is less well understood. The following paragraphs provide some of the history of Friends that we hope will explain the strong connections that Friends enjoys within the scientific and forestry communities. These connections allow us to bring the highest level of expertise to bear on identification, mapping, and research in the old growth on DCR lands and in the related forest research as described in the above sections. The information presented below is far from complete. Additional information on the activities and history of Friends will be included in future report updates.


1. Ancient Eastern Forest Conference Series

     During the period from 1992 to 1999, the importance of the Massachusetts old growth confirmations to the scientific community was leveraged by its visibility in an important series of eastern old growth forest conferences. From an idea originally proposed in May 1992 by Ted Watt of the Massachusetts Audubon Arcadia Wildlife sanctuary, FMTSF began organizing a series of eastern wide old growth forest conferences that were conceived to bring naturalists, scientists, foresters, forest historians, environmentalists, and governmental resource specialists together to share information on eastern old growth forests. The series was conceived to function at several levels to include:

 (1). definitions and characteristics of old growth,

             (2) ecological, scientific, historical, and aesthetic values of old growth,

 (3). threats to survival, and

       (4) management and restoration.

However, Massachusetts did not prove to be a viable location for the first conference. Through the grassroots environmental organization Virginian for Wilderness under the leadership of X-NASA geologist Dr. Robert Meuller, Washington D.C. was initially selected as the best place to hold the first conference, but renting conference space proved too expensive. The Western North Carolina Alliance, another important grassroots organization, stepped up to the plate and working with FMTSF created an impressive coalition of academic, environmental, and governmental organizations. The result was the 1st conference in what became known as the Ancient Eastern Forest Conference Series. The conference was held at the University if North Carolina in Asheville in August 1993. The attendance was approximately 350 and included a good balance of scientists, naturalists, foresters, forest historians, resource professionals, and forest activists. The agenda included science, management and restoration, and values and placed the spotlight clearly on gaps in our understanding of old growth ecosystems.

The first old growth conference was a recognized success and it provided FMTSF with a blueprint for future conferences. The blueprint called for an academic sponsor supported by governmental, environmental, and other academic cosponsors. Using this model, the 2nd conference was held at Williams College, MA. Primary cosponsors included the Massachusetts Audubon Society, DEM, the U.S.F.S, and FMTSF.  The role of DEM as a conference cosponsor was a significant event. It attested to an internal recognition that the department needed to understand more about the old growth remnants on its properties. A field trip was organized by Leverett into the Hopper on Greylock. Principal presenters at the second conference included Dr. Lee Frelich of the University of Minnesota and Dr. David Foster of Harvard Forest, both of whom have become central players in the Massachusetts old growth story. A number of DEM representatives attended the conference and placed the organization clearly on record as desiring to protect remaining old growth sites on DEM lands. 

In conjunction with this 2nd old growth conference at Williams College, a symposium on old growth definitions was held at Harvard Forest. The symposium was cosponsored by FMTSF, Harvard Forest, and DEM. The fact that DEM was a formal cosponsor of the symposium stems from the foresight of then Commissioner Peter Webber. Webber recognized that DEM had probably lost old growth to DEM timber management without his foresters being aware. He wanted DEM personnel to become fully aware of the thinking in the scientific community on old growth. He was also aware that private citizens were making old growth discoveries on DEM lands and he wanted to support the private effort. 

A total of about 45 scientists and foresters attended the symposium and what became clear from the symposium was that all eastern old growth ecosystems did not fit into a simple, inclusive definitional framework. Old growth in the northern forest types had different structural characteristics from those in the South. The symposium was highly valuable and from it emerged several important scientific papers including one by Drs. Malcolm Hunter and Alan White of the University of Maine, but a simple acceptable definition for the old growth on DEM lands did not emerge. 

The 3rd old growth conference was held in October 1995 at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. FMTSF was represented by Bob and Jani Leverett and Chief Jake Swamp. Drs. Charles Cogbill and David Foster were among the presenters. As with prior conferences, FMTSF was one of the organizers. The 4th old growth conference was held at Clarion University of PA in June 1997. DCNR of Pennsylvania, DEM’s equivalent, was a co-sponsor.

There was no conference in 1998, but a second old growth definitions symposium was held at Harvard Forest in November 1998. DEM was a cosponsor. The three co-sponsors were Harvard Forest, DEM, and FMTSF. The event was organized differently from the 1994 symposium. Lectures were sequential as opposed to concurrent as was the case in 1994. Representation from Canada. There were a number of DEM management foresters present. While it is not clear if the information presented by ecologists on the nature of old growth changed the perceptions of DEM field personnel, it was abundantly clear that upper level DEM management left with a firm conviction that the old growth areas were to receive the highest level of administrative protection under their watch.

Meanwhile, the conference series moved on. The University of Minnesota at Duluth was the location of the 5th conference during June 1999. While the science presented at the 5th conference was extremely strong, attendance had dipped to around 140 and with the conclusion of the 5th conference, the series was suspended for several years to allow scientists engaged in old growth studies to complete their research and have fresh material to present.  The series was continued in 2005 with the 6th conference cosponsored by a number of academic, government, and environmental organizations. The University of New Hampshire was the principal academic planner. The location was Lake Winnipesaukee. The theme of the 6th conference was management and partnership themes between private and public interests.

To date, the 6 full conferences and two definitional symposia held at Harvard Forest. In 2000, a special conference was held at Sweetbrier College in Virginia to education landowners on the nature and value of old growth. The primary sponsor of the event was the 500 Year Forest Foundation of Lynchburg, VA. Cosponsors included FMTSF and ENTS. Both organizations continued with their outreach, but with respect to FMTSF, the conference provided another opportunity to tell the story of the Massachusetts old growth.

 The 7th in the Ancient eastern Forest Conference Series was held in Little Rock Arkansas in March 2006. It concentrated on the forests of that region and the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed woodpecker. The conference was attended by approximately 120 people.

Plans are being laid for the series to be held in the Adirondack region of New York in 2008.


2. Wild Earth Old Growth Inventory

As important as the old growth conferences were to the visibility of Massachusetts old growth, other related activities also figured in prominently. During the early 1990s, FMTSF participated in an eastern wide old growth inventory spearheaded by the “Wild Earth” publication. The eastern effort was an outgrowth of interest in old growth forests spawned by conflicts in the West, especially the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Mary Byrd Davis became the focal point for collecting and reporting data. She contacted potential sources of information in all eastern states. The individual Natural Heritage programs were prime sources. It was through Natural Heritage that Bob Leverett and Davis linked up. FMTSF was the organizational arm through which Leverett worked. FMTSF assisted Davis with information on New England and wrote the forward to the study report “Old Growth in the East – an Inventory”. The report was released in 1993 and received fairly wide distribution. The primary value of the report was that it became an important vehicle to report surviving areas old growth forest under one cover and insured that the old growth of MTSF and MSF was reported for the record along with well known places like Hearts Content in western Pennsylvania.


3. “Eastern Old Growth Forests – Prospects for Rediscovery and Recovery”

       In addition to the old growth conferences and the eastern wide old growth inventory, Leverett and Davis organized a team of 34 scientists, naturalists, and forest historians and produced the Island Press book “Eastern Old Growth Forests – Prospects for Rediscovery and Recovery”. The book was published in 1996. One chapter was devoted to the Northeast. It was co-authored by Dr. Peter Dunwiddie, Dr. David Foster, Dr. Don Leopold and Bob Leverett. Leverett also wrote the introduction to the book, which still stands as the best source of information on eastern old growth for the general public. The book would not have been possible were it not for the success of the Ancient Eastern Forest Conference Series in stimulating interest in eastern old growth and bringing wider attention to the topic. FMTSF was the organizational vehicle that funded travel for the above project.


4. Other Releases of Information about Massachusetts Old Growth

            During the period from 1988 to the present, the efforts of FMTSF have found frequent outlets to include NPR, WFCR, Channel 5 in Boston, and WQED public television in Pittsburgh(no longer active). Newspapers included large ones like the Boston Globe, New York Times, New York Post; USA Today carried stories about eastern old growth that reported on discoveries in MTSF and elsewhere in Massachusetts. The content of these stories is not particularly important. However, collectively, they record the level of interest and activity in eastern old growth forest that was occurring during the period of 1988 to the present. In so far as the Massachusetts old growth is concerned, it has been of special interest. The existence of old growth in the Pacific Northwest is hardly news. However, pockets of old-growth forest that have survived against all odds in the crowded Northeast, and especially Massachusetts, have proven to be of broad, enduring public interest.


       5.  FMTSF Participation in GSMNP battle to save key hemlocks

             FMTSF will be the fiscal agent of ENTS in a planned project to save some of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s finest hemlocks. ENTS will partner with Park employees. In the formal justification for releasing the funds, the Park submission stated the following:

The primary partner for this project is The Eastern Native Tree Society (ENTS). ENTS is non-profit organization devoted locating, measuring and researching exceptional forests and individual trees of eastern North America.  For the past 12 years, ENTS members have documented unique hemlock forests and have found trees that exceed the known size limits for the species.  ENTS researchers are the foremost experts in locating, identifying, and documenting old growth hemlock forests. ENTS members will be the primary researchers in surveying, identifying, measuring, and documenting exceptionally large eastern hemlocks in the park. This information will assist park management in targeting important resources at risk and prioritizing areas that require immediate systemic treatment.”

The degree of acceptance of ENTS and its fiscal sponsor, FMTSF, as the foremost experts in the accurate measuring of eastern trees is an outside affirmation of the expertise that FMTSF brings to the studies outlined in this report. ENTS has elevated the science of tree measuring from its commercial roots that concentrates on usable trunk volume and from its casual sporting roots as reflected in champion the tree listings. This is giving science a chance to undertake more serious studies of the growth limits of eastern species.


Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest Research Reports

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