Old Growth Interpretations   Robert Leverett
  May 27, 2002 17:17 PDT 

        The success of the New York Old Growth Association (NYOGA), our
finds here in Massachusetts, confirmations by Dr. Rick Van de Poll and Chris
Kane in New Hampshire, and the extensive OG discoveries of the Southern
Appalachian Forest Coalition led by Rob Messick prompt one to ask the
question, why has so much been missed, especially on public lands. The
simple part of the answer is because the resource managers in charge of
state and national forests failed to recognize the old growth - even when
under their noses. The difficult part of the answer is why have they failed
to recognize old growth. Who was looking? What were they expecting to see?

        Well, part of the answer to that question was evident by yesterday's
very significant discovery of old growth on the southeastern slopes of Mount
Everett. Our group was whooping and hollering at each old growth form we
saw. We recognized the signs of advanced age in each tree species: Northern
red Oak, White Oak, Black Birch, White Pine, Eastern Hemlock, Red Maple,
Pitch Pine. But none of the trees were exceptionally big and some were
diminuitive. Tom Wessels is especially good at interpreting events that gave
rise to the bizarre shapes we saw. Each tree had a story to tell and it is
quite a worthwhile experience walking the woods with Tom as he interprets
signs of various disturbance events. But what do you want to bet that the
managers responsible for the forest we were in would have missed 90% of what
Tom saw? They would likely still have associated size and age together.

        Much of the old growth forest on Mount Everett and its sister
summits will turn out to be trees between 14 and 28 inches in diameter and
be 45 to 65 feet in height. There will be nothing imposing about their size.
Not hints from girth or height as to age. Yet we will confirm tree after
tree to ages of 150 to 300 years and a small percentage over that - possibly
some of the Hemlocks to well over 400 years. We will comb the big mountain
taking sufficient samples until we can develop age and disturbance profiles
for the entire mountain. It will take us 2 to 3 years, but we will do it.
The mountain deserves no less.

        We need to develop a new criteria for interpreting these forests
that we're labeling old growth - perhaps develop an index of "naturalness".
A forest that has been shaped almost completely by natural forces over a
period of time would receive a higher index value the lesser the human
influences were shaping forces and the longer the natural forces were in
control. A recently cut forest would go to near zero. A clearcut would be
zero. Anyone have some thoughts about such an index? There are pitfalls.
What if the human disturbances are restoration efforts?

        Regardless, of how the index were constructed, it would be worth a
nickle if yesterday's find didn't rank near 100%.