The Adirondacks are home to the largest known contiguous tract of unlogged forest in the Northeast. Located in the Southern part of Five Ponds Wilderness Area (Herkimer and Hamilton Counties), estimates of this patch of ancient forest range from 42,000 to 50,000 acres. According to researcher Mary Byrd Davis, “The state bought the tract to settle a claim for damages brought by a land owner who charged that construction of a dam had prevented his shipping and therefore selling the timber on his land.”
The results of that purchase are dramatic, with enormous upland conifer stands dominated by White Pine, “some of which are huge and form a super-canopy,” according to another researcher. Among the most notable stands are those on Pine Ridge, south of High Falls, and along the Five Ponds and Cranberry.
Fire and storms have impact this enormous tract of old growth, as have outbreaks of spruce budworm and beech scale. Some 10,000 acres were seriously impacted by the 1995 microburst, but many old-growth stands survived.
Only in the last 25 years have researchers (notably Michael Kudish, Robert Leverett, and Barbara McMartin) begun to catalog these stands. Despite the fact that New York State may have more old growth forests than any state east of the Mississippi, state officials have not sought out or classified old growth reserves. Luckily, the majority of the old growth stands in the Adirondacks are located on protected state land (mostly on Wild Forest and Wilderness designated lands). Large stands are also located in Silver Lake Wilderness, parts of the West Canada Lake and Siamese Ponds wilderness areas, and in the Ferris Lake and Wilcox Lake wild forests.
“Many people are curious to see what Adirondack forests looked like several hundred years ago before the effects of Europeans on the landscape,” Long-time Paul Smith’s College professor Michael Kudish says. While there are still many original forests, Kudish says even today no one person knows where they all are, and how much exists.
In 1994, Barbara McMartin reported that “unequivocally at least 200,000 acres [in the Adirondack Park] have never been logged,” adding “I feel confident now that the physical record will confirm the existence of at least a half million acres of old-growth forest in the Adirondacks”. In 2002, Bruce Kershner put the actual acreage at about 150,000 acres.
One of the problems is determining what qualifies as old growth. McMartin used unlogged, first growth stands for her 200,000 number, and second growth forests (which included areas logged so long ago as to appear to be old growth) for her larger figure. Jerry Jenkins in The Adirondack Atlas puts the amount of land in the Adirondack Park that has never been logged, or seriously affected by storms or fire, at 9.6% (about 586,000 acres).
The public has an opportunity to ask questions about these numbers and the issues they raise on Wednesday, April 25, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Freer Science Building at Paul Smith’s college during a lecture by Michael Kudish entitled “Adirondack First Growth Forests: How to Recognize and Map Them.” The lecture is free and open to the public.
Kudish, a professor emeritus at Paul Smith’s who retired in 2005, will offer techniques on recognizing and mapping first-growth forests, and estimates on their extent.
The event is sponsored by the college’s School of Natural Resource Management and Ecology and the student chapter of the Society of American Foresters.
More information on where old growth forests are located in the Adirondacks can be found online [pdf].
Photo: Old-growth eastern hemlock and eastern white pine at the Pack Demonstration Forest, Warrensburg, NY. Photo courtesy Neil Pederson.
John Warren is founder and editor of Adirondack Almanack and also New York History, the online magazine of New York state and local history. His weekly Adirondack Outdoor Recreation Reports can be heard on Friday mornings on WNBZ (AM 920 & 1240, FM 105 & 102.1), WSLP (93.3) and the stations of North Country Public Radio.