Old Growth Definitions  

Mary Davis 

Old Growth in the East: A Survey (2003), in a slightly updated version can now be accessed on the web site, www.primalnature.org . I should be glad to receive updates and shall incorporate them when time permits. Mary Davis

From: Larry 
Mary, How old to trees need to be before they become Old Growth? 
Down south we have very few remaining forests older than 100 years. 

James Parton Jan 26, 11:25 am 


As I have learned it is hard to put a set age on what age old growth 
begins. It depends on tree type & forest. I use 120 years as a rule of 
thumb. I have learned much about the defenition of " Old Growth " but 
still it is hard to define. Old growth can be in fact second growth if 
the forest has been logged far enough back to show old growth 
characteristics ( large old trees in a mixed stand of trees with 
diversified ages, pit & mound topography, snags, numerous old logs, 
etc. ). In some places even tree size is not a real good indicator. 
There are second growth forests which may be " old growth " like 
Connemara, Paris Mountain & Rudnick and old growth " virgin " forests 
like Joyce Kilmer and parts of GSMNP, like Cataloochee and Albright 
Grove. I don't think any one ent has the same defenition of old growth 
as another. Many answers will be given on this in ents discussions. 

My ideas on old growth has changed a bit since my envolvement in ENTS. 
Whether 120, 150 ( which I used to consider " entry level " for old 
growth " )or 200 years. It is hard to put a fixed age on OG. Just look 
at the forest for OGs tell-tell signs. You mentioned much of the 
souths forests being not over 100 years. That is true. There are many 
areas without old growth at all. Always look for a " loner " old tree 
though. Sometimes you will find an old one that loggers culled or 


James Parton 

Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 

This is my first posting, and I am still learning a lot about what is 
and what isn't old growth. I think James has described old growth 
well, though I do think that we should consider a different term for 
places like Albright Grove and Joyce Kilmer. To me it doesn't seem 
fair to lump them in the same category as a 150 year old forest in 
that area. I've personally measured tulip trees on Albright that where 
24 feet around; they don't get that big on 150 years. Those small 
tracts are special, even more so then a typical "old growth" forest. 
Not to take anything away from the rest of GSMNP but to me there is a 
difference and I think for at least educational purposes we should 
make a distinction. 

From: "Edward Frank" <edfr...@comcast.net>
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 20:25:59 -0500


Welcome to ENTS. I would ask that you read the introduction to the 
Old-Growth Section of the ENTS website: 
http://www.nativetreesociety.org/oldgrowth/index_oldgrowth.htm  It provides 
an overview of some of the concepts. In addition there are a number of 
excellent discussion threads debating the subject listed on the lower 
portion of the page. Essentially, I think Old-growth needs to be defined in 
the context of the age and disturbance structure of the other forests in a 
particular area, and that a single minimum age definition can not be broadly 
applied to forests representing different locations, environmental 
conditions, and ecosystems. A nice booklet showing typical characteristics 
of old growth forest is downloadable from here that is also worth a look: 

Ed Frank 

From: James Parton <hawthorn_...@yahoo.com>
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 17:51:40 -0800 (PST)


Actually I considered Joyce Kilmer and Albright Grove to be old growth 
" Virgin " forests. More than 150 years old. There are trees in Joyce 
Kilmer that are reported to be over 400 years of age. I was stating a 
difference between merely older growth ( secondary ) forests and more 
ancient primary old growth forests as Kilmer & Albright Grove. But yes 
an " old growth " forest of 150 years is probably not quite the same 
as one of 500 years. I realize that. 

I think Ed is right that it is hard to lump a minimum age definition 
on forests. There are just too many variables at play, but it is hard 
not to do so. I guess it is just our nature to do so. 

James Parton 

From: jaxtap...@hotmail.com
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 

Thanks for the welcoming and the introduction page was probably the 
most open minded definition I've read, very very nice. I agree whole 
heartedly, It encompasses areas like the everglades that i don't 
generally hear referred to as old growth, and should be. I guess 
primary forest is what I should be calling places like Albright. 

Jarrid Spicer 

From: James Parton <hawthorn_...@yahoo.com>
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 


The subject of defining old-growth is a subjective & complex one. It 
usually opens up a lengthy ents conversation. 

Welcome on board! 

James P. 

From: jarrid spicer <jaxtap...@hotmail.com>
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 

I think I'm going to like you guys 

From: "Will Blozan" <tree_hun...@bellsouth.net>
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 


Albright Grove has had chestnut blight, beech bark disease, HWA, and has 
been selectively logged for cherry; would you still call it "virgin". 
Likewise, Joyce Kilmer has been devastated by hwa and chestnut blight. 

I don't regard either as "virgin" or undisturbed. They have been irrevocably 
disturbed and impacted by humans. Impressive forests no less, with huge 
trees, but not high quality "primeval" forest in my eyes. 


From: James Parton <hawthorn_...@yahoo.com>
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 


You have a point. " Virgin " should mean completely undisturbed, even 
if a few really old specimen trees are there. Would Cataloochee 
qualify as a virgin forest? If it does not then we may not have any 
in our area, after all Cataloochee has been ravaged by hwa & chestnut 
blight. On the definition of " old growth " I am still learning. To 
learn is one of the major reasons I have joined the Eastern Native 
Tree Society. 

James P. 

From: DON BERTOLETTE <forestorat...@msn.com>
Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2008 

When I first began searching with Bob for old-growth forests in Massachusetts in the early 1990s, I spent perhaps as much time in the woods as I did seeking out old-growth definitions. One of the more exclusive ones was offered up by Malcolm Hunter, who suggested that there could not be any old-growth in New England, and other locations, because modern man has affected everything whether by earlier, but now hardly noticeable logging, or by acid rain, pollution, introduction of invasive non-native plants and insects, blights, and such. 

If you're looking for an exclusive definition for old-growth ecosystems, he'd be your man...but if you're unsure of what it is, would you want to exclude potential forests, before we really understand it all? The USFS, in many places has been wiilling to accept a number, in most cases the number of years ago, that the stand was free of modern day man settlement. Despite trust issues, this isn't a necessarily bad definition, it is just one that reflects a need to have a black and white, it's in or it's out definition. You're right, there are probably as many ENTS members' definitions as we have body parts. 
To me, that's a good thing...it shows we care enough to waste so much time thinking about it...;>) 


From: Randy Brown <rbrown0...@wideopenwest.com>
Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2008 


I'm surprised to learn how disturbed these sites actually are. Do you 
know of any stands that are disturbed any less in the East? 

From: "William Morse" <mors...@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2008 

Here in New York, one of the questions posed in navigating the State 
Environmental Quality Review Act is: Will any mature forest (over 100 
years old) or other locally-important vegetation be removed by this 
project? An answer of yes, can trigger a positive declaration (i.e. 
coordinated review of the proposed project) and the need of a scoping 
document outlining what will need to be covered in an environmental 
impact statement (EIS). Eventually, the EIS will be open to public 
comment. The process is supposed to identify any significant 
environmental impacts of activities proposed. The trees that I find 
older than a 100 years are generally confined to hedgerows, along 
property boundaries, on old farm lots, or are somehow sheltered in the 
landscape from past agricultural and logging activities. It still is 
uncertain to me how many trees constitute a forest, much less what 
constitutes old-growth. Furthermore, having no blanket definition for 
old-growth is part of the ambiguity necessary for the gray area most 
government regulations are wrought in. When disseminating regulation, 
that vague gray area prevents agencies from getting their back against 
the wall, and when push comes to shove, the legal system assumes that 
the agency(ies) is/are competent and give deference to the agencies. 
At the same time, it can hinder and bind agencies from preventing, or 
at least requiring the mitigation of, environmental impacts. I 
understanding that an umbrella definition of old-growth could/would 
impact people's property rights, but it seems necessary to attempt to 
produce, at least on a regional scale, something black and white, 
clear and defensible. I once heard an analogy between no straight 
answers in politics and no short answers in science. I think that may 
be the case here. 


From: DON BERTOLETTE <forestorat...@msn.com>
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2008 

Travis, James, others- 
In an earlier thread, the need for exclusive and inclusive definitions of old-growth was discussed. I think Travis' post here provides a necessary rationale for an exclusive definition, where there is a need to establish a 'black and white', or at the very least a threshold beyond which the quality of "old-growthedness" is legally questionable. Step over this line, and what you're planning to do on this land is not permitted, or permitted as the case/definition might be. 

Is 100 years okay? Depends on site and species, and the reference condition/history of the area...here in the west, 150 years may work, or in the case of locations where the influence of Spanish explorers is great, it might have been more appropriate to use 500 years as the proverbial 'line in the sand'. Personally, I think that the removal of 100 old stand may not: 1)be defined as old-growth ecosystem, without reference to acreage, species or special conditions; 2)require an EIS, and that an EA (Environmental Assessment) may be more appropriate; and 3) be significant, without a sense of the size of the development or the stand. 

As one who has been around the NEPA track a time or two, I have to say that these decisions are very important. From the compliance side, it is a long, difficult, complex process that you want to do right the first time...we're usually not talking in terms of weeks or months, but in years, depending on the level of controversy. 
From the developer's side, it's a long, difficult, complex and EXPENSIVE process that you want done right the first time...;>} 

From: "Edward Frank" <edfr...@comcast.net>
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2008 


I do not think it is ENTS role to come up with an exclusive regulatory definition for old growth and in fact I think exclusive definitions are a bad idea even for regulation. Each forest needs to be evaluated with respect to the species present, disturbance history, and the character of the other forests in the area. If a specific date is generated to satisfy a regulatory need for a specific site it should be by this evaluative process or a similar evaluative process. A simple age for an area, without this accompanying process for each site, will without any doubt be misapplied to other forests where this age definition is inappropriate. The definition needs to be determined on a site by site basis to make sure the numbers generated are appropriate. I would not be against a blanket statement that forests with trees beyond a certain age are old growth as aspect of a hard cutoff criteria, but I know that this would then become the defacto standard. A regional definition might be developed, but I am not entirely comfortable with this idea either. 

Ed Frank 

From: Larry <tuce...@msn.com>
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2008 18:48:44 -0800 (PST)
Local: Mon, Jan 28 2008 9:48 pm 

ENTS, Thanks for the discussion about Old Growth, I wanted to point 
out that the south has no continuous Old Growth Forest over 100-150 
years old. Sporadic Old trees exist but are not the norm, the south 
was almost totally clearcut between the late 1800's and the early 
1900's! In our National Forests there are trees I've seen over 
100-150 years. The exception is Live Oak, Hickory, Gum, Magnolia and 
Cypress, which exceed 250 years. 


From: DON BERTOLETTE <forestorat...@msn.com>
Date: Tue, 29 Jan 2008 

Re ENTS role..., I agree and was not trying to establish anything formal, merely commenting to an ongoing thread on o-g...that said, I really do think that there is a real place for one, and it needs to be one created by the agency or organization that needs to act based up on such status. Certainly not ENTS, I agree. 

I agree also with all of the rest of your points. 
Going further, with regard to the informal thread I was referring to, I'd say that there are good reasons to have 'inclusive definitions'. Especially for those of us trying to study them, learn them, appreciate them...it's good to have candidate old-growth sites out there that get good protection until we have a better understanding of them. 

"With heigh! The sweetbirds, how they sing! 
Doth Set my pugging tooth on edge. 
For a quart of ale is a dish for a king." 
William Shakespeare