Let the old growth debate rage   dbhg-@comcast.net
  Sep 06, 2006 13:41 PDT 

       I know that you've always been a strong advocate of the Oliver and Larson definition of old growth, and I respect that, but from my perspective, it is time to sunset their definition in "Forest Stand Dynamics". Let's acknowledge their contribution and move on.

       Oliver and Larson chose a successional pattern that allowed them to create an "academically recognizable" point to claim as the onset of old growth, i.e after the passing of the cohort that came back after some stand-leveling disturbance. I'm unsure if they had in mind keeping an eye on the the stand and waiting until the last tree of the original cohort croaked before proclaiming the onset of old growth. In the case of a mix of hemlocks and hardwoods, some of the hemlocks could reach 500 years of age before succumbing, maybe even 600. One, two, or even three generations of the lesser long-lived species could have rotated through the forest while members of the original cohort still stood. That is just one of hundreds of realistic scenarios. Here is another. If a single species like red spruce is cut out of a stand that is otherwise old growth by the strictest of definitions and a second generation of red spruce reach maturity, but haven't yet died, is the result old!
? That is the case for large acreages in the Adirondacks. Except for knowing the forest history and by examining the age distribution of the red spruce, in a limited area, one would likely not question the old growth status of the area.      

      Oliver and Larson start from stand-leveling disturbances and proceed to describe an idealized successional process. So theirs is a kind of idealized view of forest processes that proceeds from a uniform seedling stage and progresses until those seedings have matured and passed on. Ceratinly, there is no shortage of cases, especially in the West, where the forest must come back from a zero state, but that approach does not adequately treat a host of levels/classes of disturbance that do not set the succession clock back to zero.

      The Oliver-Larson contribution to our identification of that illusive old growth state probably still has some value, at least as an academic exercise, but I would argue that we have here on this list, a contributor to the old growth definitional debates who has far exceeded Oliver's and Larson's contribution, who understands natural stand development and the onset of old growth characteristics, and the pitfals of trying to settle on any particular definition. You know to whom I refer. Lee E. Frelich. Lee, please stand up and take a bow.

      More on the old growth definitions in future e-mail, but first I want to review much of the past thinking   


  -------------- Original message --------------
From: Don Bertolette <FoResto-@npgcable.com>;

It's all in the definitiion...
Oliver and Larson's "Forest Stand Dynamics" takes a conservative stance, and sets a high standard. True old-growth in their view is that cohort that
follows the first generation after the disturbance...depending on the
species in Pemigiwasett Wilderness, and their "typical" generation length
(time from seedling to snag...;>), multiply by two, and barring cyclic or
other disturbances, and the Pemigiwasett Wilderness would be on it's way to old-growth status, Oliver and Larson-style.
Getting reference conditions, a la "historical research" is another step in
the right direction...you can get a sense of generation length, albeit one
influenced by man's perturbations.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Raymond Caron"
Sent: Saturday, September 02, 2006 12:46 PM
Subject: Good news!!! Old Growth Forest of the near future in NH

This is edit of previous post that focuses on some observations made
while descending Bond Cliff Trail in the Pemigiwasett Wilderness in New
Hampshire. People need to hear the GOOD NEWS!!! The forests of
Pemigiwasett Wilderness are coming back. I've been studying Bill Gove's
books on logging railroads of the White Mountains. Gove's book provides
detailed survey of JE Henry's logging operations in the East Branch of
the Pemigiwasett provides maps of various sub-regions and dates when
they were logged. Mr. Gove is a retired Vermont forester and RR buff.
His books provide an excellent window into the past logging practices of
an exciting era. According to his maps, this and other expanses of the
Pemigiwastt are passing the 100-year mark since being logged and are
beginning to develop characteristics of an old growth forest.
Bottomlands are particularly interesting forest environment as it is the
natural habitat of the white pine on account of the protection that's
offered from the worst winds. As every ENTS knows white pine is the
height champion of northeastern North America. When left alone the white
pine grows quickly in fertile bottomlands such as this. I've read
reports in ENTS of white pines adding 12"+ height every year. I observed
a very diverse hardwood forest containing many white pines I'm guessing
surpassed 100' and will attain 150-160' and diameters in 24-30" diameter
range in 30-50 years that by most standards is majestic and would be
considered beginning stages of old growth. I can see these white pines
are already beginning to overtop the surrounding hardwoods who are also
pretty good specimens in their own right.

I believe these fertile moist sheltered bottomlands will some day be
home to a superb and unique expanse of old growth forest and will become
a tourist destinations in its own right. Thanks to ENTS I've been able
to visit some of the old growth sites in western Massachusetts that are
truly awe-inspiring. These groves are
generally confined to narrow sheltered river valleys of western
Massachusetts and number in the 100's of acres. The old pros are welcome
to correct me here, but barring any unfortunate disturbances like
hurricanes etc, I think old growth regions of the Pemigiwasett
Wilderness will number in square miles - not acres. Much of this is high
altitude environment, but there's also quite a bit of prime bottomland.
This area wll begin looking more and more like historic Maine and New
Hamphire woodlands of the past - minus the native americans of course.

There's a good opportunities here for someone to do historical research
to more accurately date when areas were cut and so on. Gove's book on
logging railroads reports white pines being taken in the Pine Bend Brook
Valley of the Swift River 6 feet diameter at the butt end and single
white pines logs taken from Swift River bottomlands that had to be
notched to fit on to rail cars. These must have been 200+ year old
pines. This requires a long-range view but I'm reaching an age when
enables me to do that. Wilderness protection has made this uniquely
possible. I'd love to draw ENTS's attention to this area. A new area in
Wild River Basin is also being added to Wilderness designation that was
last logged in 1900 followed by ferocious slash fires.

Ray Caron
Waltham MA

Old-Growth Definitions   Edward Frank
  Sep 12, 2006 18:19 PDT 


A few days ago Bob Leverett challenged us to again debate the definition
of Old-Growth. There hasn’t been a response yet so I thought I would
get the ball rolling. The definition below includes both the base
statement and the accompanying discussion.


The primary characteristic of an Old-Growth forest is that it contains a
substantial percentage of old trees in a setting that exhibits only
limited human impact. These forests are generally characterized as
late-successional or climax forests for a particular regional or
environmental regime. Canopy openings formed by natural processes, such
as wind throw and fire, and populated by younger trees are often found
contained within the larger old-growth forest.

Another forest classification system defines Primary or Natural Heritage
forests as “forest with a continuous heritage of natural disturbance and
regeneration.” (Frelich and Reich,
2003). The sets of trees and forests encompassed by each definition
overlap in part, but are not completely congruous. An Old-Growth forest
that looses all or a majority of its old trees through natural processes
ceases to be old-growth, but may still be a Primary or Natural Heritage
forest. A forest that has been disturbed by logging or selective
logging may over time regain the status as an Old-Growth forest, but
would no longer be a Primary forest.

The major problem with many definitions of Old-Growth is the attempt to
quantify the definition. Whether a particular forest is old-growth or
not depends on the context of the other forests in the area or region,
upon the disturbance history of the site, and upon the mix of trees
present on the site. This qualitative definition is proposed as a
purely quantitative definition is only applicable for forests in a
limited region or setting. For research purposes, academic purposes,
and management purposes these localized definitions may be workable and
useful, but they can not be applied over the broad spectrum of forests
found around the country and world.

For practical purposes there is a need to develop a list of criteria
that can be used to distinguish Old Growth forest and old trees from
younger secondary forest and trees. A good overview starting point for
many of these characteristics is defined in a document from the Ontario
Agricultural Extension Notes: Old Growth Definitions:
This should be a beginning for further discussions of when in a forest,
what features and characteristics tells someone that this is an old tree
and this is an old forest. I look forward to further elaborations on
this subject.

There are numerous words and phrases in the definition that may be
parsed in a discussion of old growth. I will enumerate them: 1)
forest; 2) substantial percentage; 3) old trees; 4) limited human
impact; 5) late successional or climax forest; 6) regional of
environmental regime.

Each of these concepts will be discussed in a follow-up email to be
sentin the next few days.

Edward Frank
RE: Old-Growth Definitions   James Smith
  Sep 12, 2006 18:28 PDT 

How 'bout:

I knows it when I sees it.


RE: Old-Growth Definitions    Edward Frank
   Sep 12, 2006 18:40 PDT 


Unfortunately, though your definition may be widely applicable, no-one
could determine if something was Old-Growth or not unless you were
present. The logistics would be difficult.

Ed Frank
RE: Old-Growth Definitions   Joshua Kelly
  Sep 13, 2006 07:37 PDT 

ENTS and Ed,

Defining old-growth is a fascinating subject with many potential
entanglements. I agree with much of what you wrote, ED. The first
definition covers the larger part of the old-growth I acknowledge in the
Southern Blue Ridge:

"The primary characteristic of an Old-Growth forest is that it contains a
substantial percentage of old trees in a setting that exhibits only
limited human impact. These forests are generally characterized as
late-successional or climax forests for a particular regional or
environmental regime. Canopy openings formed by natural processes, such
as wind throw and fire, and populated by younger trees are often found
contained within the larger old-growth forest."

One of the major difficulties with concepts of old-growth is that it is a
human construct. A forest that is %100 primary is an objective thing: "it
ain't never been logged". Some of these forests contain very few old trees,
especially in fire prone areas or stands on steep, moist slopes. Fire in
the former and windthrow and unstable substrates in the latter seem to
limit tree age. Conversely, that certain types of logging can have occurred
on a site and the site can remain old-growth. For instance, if all of the
cherries are taken out of a forest in which cherry made up less than five
percent of the basal area (a common situation down here), I think the forest
qualifies as old-growth - especially if it was logged by animal power as
opposed to skidders, because those wounds seem to heal more quickly. On the
other hand, if all of the commercially valuable tree species from a site were
removed, and only buckeyes, chestnut oaks and other less attractive trees
remained, such a forest would not qualify as old-growth to me - even with
the occasional 300 year-old tree. Basically, I think that a forest can
qualify as old-growth if human disturbance - usually logging - has not been
the major organizing force of the forest, if they retain other old-growth
attributes (i.e. old trees, snags, coarse woody, etc.). And still,
quantification of old-growth escapes this definition.

One of the ways I evaluate the forests that I think have had limited impact
from logging, is to evaluate the age dynamics of the stand. If there is a
large even-aged cohort originating from the approximate time of logging (I
usually evaluate this by noting the presence or lack of canopy layering and
old trees of certain species like Liriodendron and Q. rubra) the forest does
not qualify as old-growth. Quantifying a certain basal area of the even
aged cohort in stands that are likely to have experienced some logging is
about as solid a method I can think of to quantify borderline old-growth
sites. Perhaps that threshold would be 10% of the basal area, or perhaps
40%. Of course, one thing that often gets overlooked in conversations about
old-growth is that from a biodiversity point of view in Eastern Forests,
many second growth sites are the most important and ecologically complex,
simply because they grow on the most productive sites. Returning some of
these sheltered, calcareous or circum-neutral forests on gently sloping
ground to old-growth condition is a priority for me.

I can go on and on, and I'm interested in the submissions of others to this
conversation. Thanks Bob and Ed for bringing up this topic occasionally.

Re: Old-Growth Definitions   wad-@comcast.net
  Sep 14, 2006 17:41 PDT 

Old Growth. When I think of this term, a couple of things come to mind. I don't just think of trees, but entire systems.
Virgin or pre Columbian is a term I use for undisturbed land. An area that was never logged, farmed, or altered from it's pre-caucasian state. There are many small pieces of this type of land scattered all through Pennsylvania This brings up another discussion that we had before, how much acreage does one need to declare old growth? One post said two trees. The unaltered land would contain native species mostly. The PH would be unaltered by seashells or lime. The understorey would be intact, and the ephemerals and perennials would still be intact. The trees don't all have to be ancient, but I would like to see a few anchor trees or snags to show old age. I am sure these types of places exist that don't have "old" trees too. Indicator species are there. In Se Pa I would say oak, hickory, beech, ironwood would be present.

Old growth that isn't virgin. trees that are over 100 years old, may have been logged, still not farmed or altered PH. Mostly intact understory more invasives, still has ephemeral and perennial layer.

Other areas, don't know what to call them, could have been farmed, logged etc. Successionary forests I guess. In Se Pa the dominant species would be tulip poplar, white ash, black cherry, tree of heaven, bird cherry, sassafras.

The miniature forests on mountain tops definitely are old virgin growth, deserts, and any other undisturbed ecosystem, would be virgin old growth.

Ok, tear it up!

Re: Old-Growth Definitions   Kirk Johnson
  Sep 15, 2006 15:19 PDT 

Ok, I would add that it's important to consider the biome and maximum age
for tree species present in any given area. To me you haven't reached true
old-growth until at least 300 years, and really more like 500 years, in the
Allegheny National Forest (eastern hemlock). However, in the native range of
the bristlecone pine, coastal redwood, or the giant sequoia, it would have
to be several thousand years. What would it be in the cypress swamps of the
southeast? How about the taiga forests of the northern latitudes?

Kirk Johnson
Old Growth Definitions   edniz
  Sep 17, 2006 03:42 PDT 


            I just finished a book called Ancient Forests by David
Middleton. The subtitle is "A Celebration of North America's Old-Growth
Forests". I bought from a catalog and was hoping that it would cover some
of the old-growth forests in the Eastern half of the country, but it only
covers the Pacific Coast. Nonetheless, it is still a wonderful book with
some great photography.

            Regarding the definition of old-growth, I want to quote the
following paragraph:

            "In the early 1980's the first comprehensive research on the
ecology of the old-growth forests was published. Comparing all the
different types of old-growth forests, scientists distilled out four
structural components common to all old-growth forests: large live trees, a
multilayered canopy, dead standing trees (snags) and downed logs on the
forest floor and in streams. Each component describes a physical
characteristic of the forest and is not solely dependent on the age, type,
or size of the trees. Together the four components define an old-growth
forest. If any one of these physical characteristics is absent, the forest
is not a true old-growth forest." (p. 35)   The rest of this particular
chapter then goes on to define these characteristics in greater detail.

Ed Nizalowski

Newark Valley, NY
RE: Old Growth Definitions   Joshua Kelly
  Sep 17, 2006 09:48 PDT 

Ed, Kirk and others, I disagree with the large tree, and in some cases, even
old tree qualifiers. I think a forest can be old-growth (old forest, young
trees) without either. Sites on steep slopes and ridges with thin, well
drained soils and lots of fire and storm disturbance often exemplify this
case. Also, some community types, like High Elevation Red Oak here in the
South, do not often support species that can regularly attain an age over
300 years old. Anything over 150 years in a forest that lacks obvious human
disturbance is enough to raise my eyebrows. Simply put, I think that each
forest community type has different old-growth qualifiers, and those
qualifiers also change with the physical properties of a site. This sort of
site-specific community typing is possible now in the Eastern U.S., thanks
to decades of ecological studies and previous typing efforts. So, if anyone
is looking for a PhD project.........

In reverence of old forest systems,
Old Growth Debate   Edward Frank
  Sep 17, 2006 18:52 PDT 


Many people trying to develop a definition of Old Growth are missing the
key point. They are talking in terms of forest dynamics and ecologic
continuity as if this were all that mattered. To my mind “Old Growth”
forest is an aesthetic construct. It is dictated by the impression
people have when visiting the forest aesthetically, emotionally,
spiritually, and to a lesser degree intellectually. People do not walk
into an area devastated by fire or wind twenty years ago, and say, “Wow
look at the ecologic continuity of this dynamic forest system. These 30
feet tall and one inch diameter aspens are something I hope to live long
enough to tell my grandchildren about.”

Old Growth forest is about a patch of forest that exhibits the
characteristics reminiscent of our concepts of a forest primeval with
many big and old trees, or at least old trees. There are cases where
knowledge of the trees impacts your perceptions. When told those 8 foot
high shrub-like oaks are really 150 years old, people will begin to see
the characteristics of age present in the trees. You will feel this is
Old Growth forest. The concept of age is embedded in these trees,
because they are living physical objects tied to some time in the
distant past beyond personal memory. The impression is not because of
the continuity of the ecologic system, nor because they have reached
some specific density or age limit. To put it simply, if people are
arguing that a forest can be an Old Growth forest without old trees,
they are wrong.   It may be a Primary, or heritage forest, but it is not
an Old Growth forest. If old trees are present in a Primary forest,
then it can be both a Primary forest and an Old Growth Forest.

On an intellectual level I am interested in dynamic forest processes and
Primary forests and other Primary ecologic systems. I write letters and
work to aid in their preservation. However these systems without old
trees do not have the emotional impact of an Old Growth forest, unless
those characteristics of great age, old trees in particular, are

Personally, and as can be seen by many of my posts, I think the
definition of terms is important . Objects have physical characteristics
that can be measured and these measurements should be made as precise
and accurately as possible. Groups of objects, like a forest of trees,
have aggregate values that can be measured and calculated. However,
these measurements alone do not tell the entire story. Some
characteristics are impossible to quantify, but that does not mean these
qualities are not important. We can not get caught up in the search for
numbers to the degree that these attributes are ignored.

Requirements such as a minimal basal area of trees of a certain age in a
given acreage have been used to define the term Old Growth forest.
These values are clearly arbitrary and artificial as the ages of trees
in a forest and the varied histories of different forest form a
continuum.   It can be argued, and has been, that these values are
derived from observations of many different forests over a stretch of
time. I ask what makes a forest just below these required parameters
different from those that just meet the criteria. Do they represent an
actual break in the continuum? No, they are simply arbitrary. If you
accept the premise that a humanly disturbed forest can at some later
point in time become old growth, then you must recognize that this
change is a gradual change and an abrupt break as defined by
quantitative definitions.

There is a difference between Old Growth forest and those which are not,
but there are many degrees of change between the two extremes. These
differences need to considered in the context of other forests in
region, but they are real. The difference is primarily and aesthetic
and emotional one. Old forests “feel” different and this feeling is not
quantifiable. It is reasonable that the measurable characteristics as
specified in some quantitative definition may occur over time. Likewise
the feel of a forest will change over time. Any other similarities
between the approaches would be coincidental.

The best definition in my opinion is still a qualitative one, similar to
the one in my initial post, possibly supplemented with a list of
observable characteristics that tend to contribute to the feeling of age
of those forests. Definitions based upon specific numeric boundaries do
not, and can not, adequately reflect the non-quantifiable aspects of the
forest that best characterize the core elements of what is an Old Growth

Edward Frank
RE: Old Growth Definitions ONE MORE   Will Blozan
  Sep 18, 2006 07:16 PDT 

...And not to mention sandbar communities of willow and alder that may never
reach 20 years... still a natural forest to me and "old-growth" for the

Re: Old Growth Debate   MICHAEL DAVIE
  Sep 18, 2006 17:18 PDT 
Ed, I think this has been said before: ultimately these are all exercises in somewhat arbitrarily ascribing language to vastly complex and varied ecosystems, which of course is why there's always such debate over language. Depending on the forum, it can have impact in policy, which is what might make it important. Look at the link Don sent for only one example of how many different "definitions" there can be for one term. I use quotation marks because most of these words are far from defined. You say 'To my mind “Old Growth” forest is an aesthetic construct,' and while many people would agree with you, the key part of that sentence is "to my mind". I mean, I kind of agree with you, but that's not really the point. It seems like we've seen discussion and debate over these terms many, many times before, but there is still no clear consensus. Old-growth, ancient, primeval, climax, overmature- they're all just words trying to wrestle a greased pig of meaning (to make an odd metaphor).

Unless you or Bob are trying to clarify an ENTS position on the term "old-growth", in which case we could hash something out and eventually come to an agreement, or more likely a majority opinion, and have our own particular (possibly idiomatic) definition and use of the term. Personally I don't think there can ever be a clear-cut definition for something so complex. Which is not saying it's not interesting to talk about; I wouldn't presume to put a damper on discussion.

I wouldn't say people are missing the point, though. The discussion is about the point that is so hard to pin.

Re: Old Growth Definitions ONE MORE   Edward Frank
  Sep 18, 2006 18:28 PDT 

Will and Josh,

The question of what is old is dependant on the trees on the site and how
frequently they are "restarted." I don't have any problem with the idea
that 20 year old willows and alder are old growth and may be an old growth
forest for that system. This is a case where there needs to be an
intellectual input into the the concept and experience of old growth. That
is one of the problems I see with strict quantitative definitions.
Something that young would rarely if ever qualify. Ages based upon a
percentage of the maximum age a species might reach also are not ideal,
because every time a new older specimen of a species is found, entire stands
of old growth forest would loose their status. Hemlock forests do not need
to be 1/2 of the maximum age of the species (555 years documented) to be old
growth. An 800 year old stand of bald cypress would not qualify in the 1/2
maximum age criteria, which I actually have seen proposed.

I wonder about clonal colonies of trees or other plants. The box
huckleberry at Hoverter & Sholl Box Huckleberry Natural Area here in PA is a
colony estimated to be 11,000 years old. Mesquite shrub rings in the Mojave
Desert are up to 12,000 years old. Aspen colonies in Utah consist of up to
47,000 stems, none of which are that old but collectively they are ancient.
There are numerous examples http://waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0601.htm Surely
these are old growth systems. The aspen colonies would be old growth forest
even though individual specimens are not particularly old.

Ed Frank
RE: Old Growth Definitions ONE MORE   Edward Frank
  Sep 19, 2006 15:11 PDT 


I am sorry, but on reconsideration I don't know if I could call something
that is reinitiated every twenty years by flooding "Old Growth." I could buy
the idea that these may be likened to primary systems as all traces of human
impact have been wiped out again and again. But as they are perpetually 
stuck in an early succession series, and never have any trees of significant
age, even in terms of the species present...

It lacks one of my main criteria as it does not have old trees, and I think
that is key. The argument seems otherwise reasonable that it is old growth
for the site - the forest as described in this scenario should merit some
type of recognition, but neither old growth forest nor climax forest seem to
be the appropriate terminology. I don't have any better ideas however on
what it should be called.

Ed Frank

RE: Old Growth Definitions ONE MORE   Will Blozan
  Sep 19, 2006 16:21 PDT 


That is why I had "old-growth" in parentheses. I despise the term. It by
default suggests "oldness" which should not be a factor in a primary system
with trees. I agree with Josh- the site integrity must be old but the trees
may not.

RE: Old Growth Debate   Don Bragg
  Sep 19, 2006 05:51 PDT 

While I agree with Michael about the intangible attributes of
old-growth, I must interject that for public land management agencies,
such as the one I work for, definitions need to be developed and used
for regulatory and administrative purposes. We tend to get sued
frequently by organizations that dispute our expert opinions of how the
land is to be managed, and they (and the courts) want specific and
explicit definitions of what constitutes old-growth. Land managers
would ideally prefer a universally accepted (and singular) definition of
old-growth that is applicable to every parcel of timber, that could be
codified and quantified consistently by trained observers, and would
satisfy their critics so they could get on to other business.
Unfortunately, only rarely is this possible, and it is certainly not

The subjective nature of old-growth needs to be treated more objectively
and quantitatively, and this in turn may require new analytical tools.
I have been working on notions (similar to Bob's "shades of gray"
thoughts in his initial article) of using fuzzy set theory to describe
any stand as having a "membership in the set of old-growth", with
greater membership as the stand approaches classic old-growth. This is
a complicated idea that is difficult to express via email.

Regardless of how complex or hard-to-pin down definitions of old-growth
are, we are required to try--and that's a good thing, because it helps
keep people like me employed ;)

Don Bragg

RE: Old Growth Debate   Lee E. Frelich
  Sep 19, 2006 08:24 PDT 


As far as an umbrella definition of OG, simpler is better: 'Relatively old
and/or relatively undisturbed by humans for the region, tree species, and
site' is sufficient.   The details play out differently in each region, and
there is no sense in searching for a universal definition with more
specific terms that does not exist.

A DPF of my paper is available by e-mail for anyone who wants it:
Frelich, L.E. and P.B. Reich. 2003. Perspectives on development of
definitions and values related to old-growth forests. Environmental Reviews
11: S9-S22.

In MN, old growth was defined as stands of mainly originating after natural
disturbance, and at least 120 years old for those types where stand age is
relevant. Every stand of potential old growth (POG) was surveyed, and an
old growth quality score was assigned based on multiple factors, such as
size of stand, isolation (higher score for a stand embedded within a larger
forest as opposed to a woodlot surrounded by agricultural fields), age and
size of dominant trees relative to the regional maximum size and age for
that type of site, evidence of past cutting (would have to be selective
cutting or stand would not qualify) or other disturbance, and presence of
invasive species.

The scores for POG stands where then ranked within ecoregions about the
size of Massachusetts. For a region where old growth was rare, lower old
growth quality scores were accepted in order to reach the goal of having at
least 5 old growth stands of each forest type in each region (in most cases
there are actually 10 or 20 stands). In other regions with much more
forest, only stands with very high scores became designated old growth (DOG).

We also have FOG (future old growth), stands that were younger, but of
natural origin, that can be used to replace DOG that is leveled by wind or
burned. We have a total of 44,000 acres of DOG and FOG.

It goes without saying that all stands that have never been logged should
be reserved whether called old growth or not, whether the trees are old, or
large, or not. In MN, those areas never logged that are not DOG or FOG are
in the natural area system, or designated wilderness.


Re: Old Growth Debate   Edward Frank
  Sep 19, 2006 10:08 PDT 


The quandary posed is that a strict, quantitatively well defined criteria for
old growth might be inappropriate for the site and allow logging of an area
deserving protection or prohibit logging of an area where it would be. A
subjective or vague definition is one asking for litigation. Long term
planning would be difficult as what would be old growth under one political
climate would not be under another. I know there was a criteria for one of
the major conservation groups to help determine what sites to purchase for
protection. There were objective criteria like size, number of rare species
present, a site uniqueness factor, and several subjective questions related
to the quality of the site. These subjective questions were rated by an
individual or panel on a scale from 1 to 10. All were put into an equation
or graph to see what sites should be purchased.

Re: Old Growth Debate   Neil Pederson
  Sep 19, 2006 11:36 PDT 
I agree with Lee, simple is better: how about documentation instead of a
definition? For example, evidence showing a forest with little or no human
disturbance with many of the dominant trees predating European settlement
except for ecosystems with a high-frequency disturbance regime [Will B's
sand bar example, which is a good concrete example of Charlie Cogbill's
process-based definition] would be old-growth. This would rule of the 1/2
max age definition currently in use in many places. Documentation would have
to be considered in context of the dominant trees and land-use history. So,
forests in Kentucky outside of the Bluegrass region or on peninsular FLA
could have trees as young as 200 yrs and be hypothesized to be OG because of
settlement patterns while in NY State, especially in the Hudson Valley, such
a forest would not be 'classic' old-growth.

And, it might be possible that the documentation route could incorporate the
FOG definition Lee writes about. Loblolly pine in the Congaree, for example,
are old for the species, but are likely to have been regenerated by ag
abandonment. Yet, there has been little human disturbance in these stands
since then and natural stand dynamics [tree fall, hurricanes, etc] are
currently re-shaping these forests [fitting the process-based definition].

Umm, just some thoughts.

RE: Old Growth Debate   Robert Leverett
  Sep 19, 2006 12:02 PDT 

Ed and ENTS,

    Those of us who have been part of the old growth debates and
definition processes for a score of years or more tend to cycle between
simple and involved definitions. But in the end we gravitate more toward
the simple end of the spectrum as we see just how monumental is the
monumental task of a developing an all encompassing system that when
applied includes everything we intuitively believe needs to be included
and excludes everything that we clearly believe needs to be excluded.

    A better approach is to devise graduated scales to help us
distinguish between better and poorer sites, but we need to stay
flexible. For instance, as old-growth-like habitat in an area becomes
increasingly scare, we may drop our requirements.

   In discussing old growth definitions, we should not lose sight of
another category of forest - pre-settlement, primary, or first growth
forest. Stated as a principle, this is a class of forest that most of us
never want to see compromised. So what does that stance portend when an
alien invader like the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid threatens the very best of
what remains of the southern Appalachian hemlocks that are located in
areas of pre-settlement old-growth? Obviously Will Blozan, myself and
others in ENTS have voted to treat those hemlocks. W don't want the
hemlocks to succumb to that alien Asian invader. However, I have a
friend in Springfield, MA, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order, who
believes that Nature should be allowed to run its course. My friend is
highly principled and has been a great champion of environmental causes.

    Once an area of first growth has been treated to retain species that
otherwise would die, does the area cease to be a first-forest forest? It
would still remain old growth. But at some point, the designation of
first growth can no longer properly be applied. In the definitional
scheme of things, I would not want to lose site of the original
classification, i.e. that of first growth.

    BTW, in using the term old growth, there are two conventions in use:
old growth and old-growth. To hyphenate or not to hyphenate. An early
convention was that when the term is used as a noun, it is "old growth",
and when used as an adjective, it is "old-growth". I find myself using
first one form or then another.   


RE: Old Growth Debate   Edward Frank
  Sep 19, 2006 15:08 PDT 


I you haven't read Lee's article I would recommend it highly. I cited
it in my introduction to the Old Growth page on the ents website.


Lee E. Frelich wrote:

As far as an umbrella definition of OG, simpler is better: 'Relatively old and/or relatively undisturbed by humans for the region, tree species, and site' is sufficient.   The details play out differently in each region, and there is no sense in searching for a universal definition with more specific terms that does not exist.

A PDF of my paper is available by e-mail for anyone who wants it:

Frelich, L.E. and P.B. Reich. 2003. Perspectives on development of definitions and values related to old-growth forests. Environmental Reviews 11: S9-S22.


Re: Old Growth Debate   Randy Brown
  Sep 19, 2006 19:45 PDT 

On Sep 19, 2006, at 3:02 PM, Robert Leverett wrote:

However, I have a
friend in Springfield, MA, a member of the Secular Franciscan
Order, who
believes that Nature should be allowed to run its course. My friend is
highly principled and has been a great champion of environmental

I find this strict idealism rather baffling because to put it simply, there isn't hardly
anywhere on the planet that is 100% natural anymore (or absolutely nowhere if
you want to get strict and count anthropogenic CO₂ increases).  Especially in the case
of alien pests. They got where they were purely by human means, how can that count
as natural? Or some other pet peeves of mine like fire suppression and the elimination
of large predators in the east and overabundance of deer that has resulted. The 
consequences may be natural in the sense that they occur without our direct intervention
but the start of them sure aren't.

Old Growth is our sentimental focus, but in the big picture, I think the real emphasis
ought to be preserving functioning ecosystems. In a sense I think trying to find a tidy definition
is a bit tunnel-vision because as mentioned already, nature has a million shades of grey.
To really argue effectively about conservation we need to find out what species need
what habitat conditions and argue for preservation from their.   

Simply relying on it's 'big, pretty and richly complex", doesn't carry much weight when 
other people are just as passionately sentimental about their next big SUV, House, Boat 
or whatever.  It's really the only sane way in my opinion to (try to?) balance the
needs of humanity and nature.

Randy Brown

Re: Old Growth Definitions ONE MORE   Edward Frank
  Sep 19, 2006 21:09 PDT 


One of the arguments I was making was that old-growth forests are not an
ecologic category, but one defined by human perceptions and biases. It is
not the same as a primary system with trees. A primary system need not have
old trees, but old-growth, as a human construct, does. In many cases both
terms may be applied to the same forest, but not in every case. Questions
to consider then, if you accept my premise, is when does a disturbed site
become old-growth again? Or how much human disturbance can have taken place
before something is no longer a primary system, or no longer and old-growth
forest? What criteria or characteristics must be present in a forest for
visitors to think of it as an old-growth forest? I don't hate the term, but
feel it has an application in getting people interested in forests, in
rallying people to protect certain areas, or as a place for spiritual or
emotional renewal. Primary systems have ecologic and scientific values.
Those that are both primary and old-growth systems share all of these

RE: Old Growth Definitions ONE MORE   Robert Leverett
  Sep 20, 2006 04:41 PDT 


   Much of the hidden power in the notion of old growth lies in the
ambiguities of the concept, itself. Like Randy says, Nature produces a
million shades of gray so that thresholds and cutoffs don't work. There
is no magic spot where the old growth phase begins, because as Ed points
out, it is a human notion. We apply to the bewilderingly complex forest
systems to try to reduce them to something that is manageable in the
human mind.

   In the past, we've tried many definitions and they've all failed to
one degree or another. But we keep rehashing them as though what hasn't
work will suddenly emerge into full sunlight and work. So, we shuffle
around the nouns, verbs, and adjectives, but alas, the target remains
illusive and always will.

But the ghosts of old growth past continue to haunt is. One failed
attempt to define old growth employed a statistical approach. Back in
the 1980s (I think) one ecologist proposed a definition that specified
that 50% of the canopy trees had to have reached 50% of the maximum ages
for the represented species and that at least some of the trees had to
be approaching the maximum ages for those species. There were other
conditions, but the 50-50 age criterion was central to the particular
definition. Bureaucrats in Massachusetts got hold of the definition and
had a field day with it. It doesn't take long for a thinking person to
pick this definition apart, but it has maintained a life of its own and
still has proponents - of which I am no longer one. BTW, the author of
that definition later explained that it had been proposed to define the
old-growth phase in the red spruce stands that the author was studying
at the time. It was not necessarily meant to be applied more broadly.
Just a bit of history on the subject of old growth definitions.


RE: Old Growth Definitions ONE MORE   Lee E. Frelich
  Sep 20, 2006 06:42 PDT 


If 10 ENTS members who each have a different definition of old growth hike
through the ENTS grove at Mohawk Trail State Forest during the upcoming
October meeting, the trees will nevertheless all be the same dbh, same
height, and same species for all 10 people.

That is why I just measure the forest without worrying about what its label

When I take a group of people on a hike in any forest, whether a young jack
pine forest after fire, a dwarf black spruce forest 5 feet tall, or an old
multi-aged stand of hemlock, I have never had any trouble convincing people
the area should be preserved merely by pointing out the unique features.

Old growth is mainly useful as a political term, and its needs to be
adjusted by intelligent people for every circumstance. Personally I would
like to see the word disappear, and be replaced by natural heritage, which
includes forests of all types, sizes and ages.


RE: Old Growth Definitions    Neil Pederson
  Sep 20, 2006 06:42 PDT 

you are correct in what you say about any truly natural areas remaining; this is the thesis of Bill McKibben's book "The End of Nature". some more evidence: i was fortunate to be at the northernmost trees on Earth [the Taiymyr Peninsula north of Siberia]. yet, even on the way up there and in near those northernmost trees the impact of man was obvious; war prisons of Stalin and even a small clearcut! it can be argued that the people living up there are living as they always have [though not exactly] and need to use their resources as they see fit. i can't fault them for that. nevertheless, it struck me hard when i saw a small clearcut at 72 degrees N latitude. there are few, if any purely untouched areas on Earth [ignoring the elevated CO2 and acid rain part of the End of Nature thesis]. 

so, we need to keep this in context and yet not let it get us down like the 'End of Nature' can.

so, what to do with our forests; how do we label them? what do we call them? a practical and documentary approach might be the best method. 

"this forest has many 300-400 year old trees and seems to have experienced a partial cut 150 yrs ago. it is currently home to X, Y, and Z, but is being impacted by hemlock woolly-adelgid."

it is wordy, but it tells people what is happening in the forest. this is along the lines of the late Barbara McMartin's idea when she stated that the southern Adirondak Mtns has acres and acres of old-growth. she made the exception that in many areas only a handful spruce and pine were removed leaving an intact hardwood forest. in this day and age, that ain't a bad concept. 

along these lines, ENTS might be interested in this movie coming out in Manhattan today:

A Journey Through Forests and a Sense of Regret
Kelly Reichardt's film is a triumph of modesty and of 
seriousness that also happens to be one of the finest
American films of the year.



Old Growth Debate   Edward Frank
  Sep 20, 2006 08:54 PDT 


I don't expect that we will come to any consensus concerning the
definition of old growth. I wanted to take this opportunity for me to
try to do some self-examination of my thoughts on the issue. I want to
hear other peoples ideas and perspectives, and I wanted to see what
others had to say about my ideas. I know there are many more people on
this list who have ideas or bits of ideas to put forth.   

We all are examining forests through the lenses of our own experience,
observations, and backgrounds. Carl Harting for example commented that
the physical differences between those stunted old-growth forests of
oaks growing on a mountain top were so differnt from the old-growth
forest at Cook Forest that perhaps they should be classified as a
different type of old growth. I don't know, but it is something worth
thinking about.     Scott Wade had some excellent comments on the pH of
old fields and soils structure that he indicated he would post to the
list. I am waiting.

I agree with Randy Brown that the forests, and those in eastern
United States in particular, have been significantly altered by human
activities indirectly even if they have not been logged. The loss of up
to 70% of the basal area of trees in some areas died from chestnut
blight. That wasn't logging, but it was a human introduced pathogen.
Lee Frelich's research on the impacts of invasive earthworms, again
human introduced organisms, is impacting forests across the east. Upper
peninsula forests in Michigan in many areas have little or no new shoots
to replace the canopy trees as they die because of European earthworms.
There have been changes in ecosystems in terms of amphibians, mammals,
reptiles and bird populations and their interaction within the forests.
The list could go on and on. We have dramatically affected many aspects
of eastern forests even if they have not been logged. Should our
definitions of primary and old growth consider human impacts just in
terms of logging, or should a certain level of indirect influence be
allowed? and how much should that be?

Overall I think any general definition needs to be vague to encompass
the wide diversity of forest types and tree mixes found that reasonable
could be considered old growth. I think these definitions must be made
in the context of other forests in the surrounding areas - even the
generalized ones. Specific quantitative definitions can be developed
for a particular forest based upon the specific characteristics found in
that forest and the disturbance history of that particular forest stand.
These quantitative definitions are applicable to just that single
forest and should not be applied to forests on a broader scale.

These are my thoughts for now, if any of you have ideas to share, go
ahead and post them. This really isn't a contest but a forum for

Ed Frank
Back to Lee   Robert Leverett
  Sep 20, 2006 09:28 PDT 


   Your points are well taken. Looking at a forest and being able to see
what is unique, rare, or common and explain it is a better way to
communicate with the public. It avoids the definitional quagmire. You
are in an excellent position to engage in this kind of communication
because of your background as an ecologist and because of your
comprehensive knowledge of what is out there, i.e. you know when a
forest is rare.

    The beginner understandably looks for convenient handles that helps
him/her get on top of the mountain of detail. So we're always going to
be communicating with the public through specialized vocabularies, but
moving away from unproductive/confusing terminology should be our goal.
The great thing about the proposed forest reserve system being developed
here in Massachusetts is that once an area is declared a reserve, it
doesn't need to be sub-classified. The idea is to allow ecological
processes to govern in the reserves and that's that. The currently
identified old growth areas will gain a kind of anonymity within the
larger reserves that will serve to protect them from too much attention
- at least that is our hope.

     Tomorrow I will be attending a meeting in Egremont in which an
announcement will be made about large scale reserves. I'm keeping my
fingers crossed. I'll have a report to ENTS hopefully by tomorrow


RE: Back to Lee   Edward Frank
  Sep 20, 2006 10:28 PDT 


You wrote: "Looking at a forest and being able to see what is unique,
rare, or common and explain it is a better way to communicate with the
public. It avoids the definitional quagmire... The beginner
understandably looks for convenient handles that helps him/her get on
top of the mountain of detail. So we're always going to be communicating
with the public through specialized vocabularies, but moving away from
unproductive/confusing terminology should be our goal."

Communicating with the general public is the ultimate goal, but first we
need to interest them in the subject of forests. Consider that
protecting the snail darter has been a rallying cry for
anti-environmentalists and the butt of numerous jokes for years. A rare
or unique moss or lichen in a forest may have some legal standing, but
likely will not serve well as an initial motivation point for the
general public. People are drawn to big and broad concepts before they
are drawn to details. You first acknowledge this idea, then seem to
disagree with yourself. The term Old Growth is embedded in our lexicon.
It will not go away simply because we can not define it with the degree
of precision you or I or forest professionals might like.   We need to
find a way to be able to use the term in a way that is acceptable to
professionals, communicators, and understandable to the general public.

Saying the term Old Growth is a bad term and vowing not to use it is not
an option. Think of how many years ago paleontologists decided that
Brontosaurus should really be called Apatosaurus under naming
conventions. Which term is still used more commonly today? Apatosaurus
isn’t even in the dictionary in MsWord. Elected officials are in the
same category as the general public, Most do not have any formal
training in the field, and it is obvious their interests lie in big and
impressive things over details. They may listen to experts who can
explain the details to them eventually, but it is necessary to get their
ear first. The words Old Growth Forest will get their attention, even
if it is simply because they know of the controversy the term will
cause. This is a tool that can and should be used to grab the attention
of the public and elected officials. We are stuck with the term Old
Growth and we must deal with it.

Ed Frank
Re: Old Growth Debate   wad-@comcast.net
  Sep 20, 2006 13:07 PDT 

On another note, I think many of the lurkers may be wary of posting. I know I find it somewhat difficult to debate topics, because most of the things I write are based on opinion, rather than reports or science. Since there is no definition for old growth that is accepted by all, I would guess that everyone's statements about old growth are opinions. I too encourage others to post their opinion of old growth, and others not to say that it is wrong. Opinions are not wrong, even if you feel it is a bad opinion. I am sure the lurkers feel out gunned and that is why they lurk.

When did humans become removed from nature? We always speak of ourselves like we are on the outside looking in. If I am in Asia, and a small burred seed lodges in my hair, and I get off the plane in the US and it dislodges and falls to the earth and starts growing. How is that different from another species transporting a seed to another place? The Franciscan may be right. I know Lee believes it is inevitable too. Maybe some other species are as smart as we are, but have better self control? Anyway.

Old Growth   Scott Wade
  Sep 15, 2006 

From: Scott Wade
To: Edward Frank
Subject: Re: Old Growth
Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2006 12:56:29 +0000
X-Mailer: AT&T Message Center Version 1 (Apr 11 2006)
X-Authenticated-Sender: d2FkZXNAY29tY2FzdC5uZXQ=


PH- I have measured PH in 30-40 year old fields that are now nice
stands of ash, poplar, cherry and the like, as I mentioned in the
successionary forest part. The PH remains in the high 6's. Abutting
this old field is a virgin area that was not logged or farmed and the PH
there is 4.5. There is an old stone fence row, and one side is high the
other is normal. Farming ruins thousands of years of soil dynamics
which is very difficult to reverse. I have tried to add sulfur to areas
to lower the PH with not much success. It takes a lot of sulphur to move
even a tenth of a point. I have also noticed here that the invasive
worms tend to be more aggressive in the higher PH areas also.

Logging doesn't destroy the soil dynamics or the forest floor flora
inventory. Do you know how hard and slow it is to re-establish trout
lilly and other ephemerals back into a forest? The field I mentioned
above has a forest floor of invasives and spicebush, with a random
viburnum here and there.

I think that an area can still be old growth, even if there aren't
obvious old trees. Dale told me that some of the hemlocks at Cook that
are suppressed in the understory are hundreds of years old. If for
some reason the big ones all came down, as in a storm, it would still be
old growth, it just wouldn't look like it.

Invasives are everywhere and we cannot defeat them. In my opinion, a
healthy undisturbed virgin forest with the deer under control doesn't
seem to get over run as easily as an old farm field. I have blamed this
on PH myself, but that is just a guess. The above mentioned rock wall
and fields are a good example. the virgin side of the wall has a forest
floor of azalea, blueberry, wintergreen, cat brier and a few others.
The other side of the wall is completely green with invasives and
spicebush. I have often thought about water too. Maybe the large oaks
and hickory take up the majority of the water, and invasives can't get
started? The light penetration is similar in both parcels.

Disease in the forest is a good question. I am not sure how to answer
that. If you say they are disqualified because of species loss, that
includes everywhere, doesn't it? The area referenced above still has
two chestnuts and some small elms, but I am sure the numbers were much
higher in the past.

My simple old growth definition has always been 100 years or more, and
more than one tree. I formed this after the last discussion on ENTS.

Ed, please keep in mind that I unfortunately have no formal training in
this area. I have come up with these ideas in the last six years while
working this wonderful 283 acre property that is very diverse in forest
composition. I wish you could come for a visit some time so I could
show you first hand what I am referring to. After November 7th, I will
have a guest room available at our new house.


-------------- Original message --------------
From: Edward Frank 

Thanks for your contribution. This is an individual email not to the list. I
liked what you wrote overall. A couple comments:

1) pH alteration- this is usually very short term?

2) I am not sure I understand why you have the big difference between
land that was farmed and land that was timbered in your discussion? I am not disagreeing, I just don't understand the significance of this distinction.

3) You talk about invasives. They are a reality everywhere so I would
not consider them a defining characteristic or all of our primary old-growth forests would be kicked out of the category.

4) What about things like dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, emerald
ash borer, etc. They are natural processes, but were accidentally introduced by people, so they are also anthropogenic. Would the loss of 25% or more of the basal area of trees in a system by chestnut blight disqualify it as primary old growth?

Ed Frank
Back to Ed   Robert Leverett
  Sep 21, 2006 12:21 PDT 


    In these e-mail exchanges, I often argue from different positions
with respect to the issues that we discuss. It is my way of
acknowledging merits to arguments on both sides of an issue - pros and
cons. However, in my hurried attempts to post e-mails among other duties
that I'm involved with, I soemtimes leave thoughts stranded. Shame on me
for being careless.

    In the case of the human notion of an old-growth forest and our many
attempts to to define what is clearly a moving target, I fully recognize
that the concept or term isn't going away and I will continue working
within the forest vocabulary commonly in use. However, I relate well to
what Lee says. He emphasizes notion of dispensing with titles and
focusing on valuable/rare features. Folks unfamiliar with the long term
interplay of natural processes will continue to want simple concepts and
definitions. In my interpretive programs, I'll continue discussing the
prevailing terms and defintions, but I'm going to drive home the point
harder about being able to recognize, value, and save what is rare
independent of where it falls in the terminology basket.

   As a final comment, I deal with State people weekly on old-growth
issues, and although I'm inclined to think that I've heard it all, these
discussions are proving very useful to me. I, as you, hope more people
join in.

Re: Back to Ed   djluth-@pennswoods.net
  Sep 21, 2006 19:03 PDT 


As you state below:
   "In my interpretive programs, I'll continue discussing the
prevailing terms and defintions, but I'm going to drive home the point
harder about being able to recognize, value, and save what is rare
independent of where it falls in the terminology basket."

That's exactly what we've been trying to do here at Cook Forest ever since you
guys hit me with the "old growth" bug back in 97'.