Monday, April 16, 2012

Indentifying Adirondack First Growth Forests

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.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

10 Responses

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Since I work, I won’t be able to attend but anyone who does should suggest these stands be identified so people could see and experience them.

  2. Gromit says:

    There are many perplexities in classifying old growth in the Adks. One is how to classify a parcel where softwoods were selectively cut over a century ago but the hardwoods have never been logged. At the turn of the 20th cent., loggers in the Adks harvested softwoods only (unless they were cutting for charcoal near the Lake Champlain iron mines); hardwoods did not run well on rivers, and there was minimal market for them. So if you have a piece of property where red spruce and white pine were cut in 1890 but the hardwoods have never been logged, is that old growth?

  3. tim7973 says:

    Seen pictures of the old-growth and impact force rings back memories of the story of the grandmother tree. Take a look at the collected works of Barney Fowler and the story he did about the grandmother tree and the picture of Shelley Potter a previous manager of the pack forest and responsible for the Adirondack Conservancy protecting several pieces of land adjacent to the forest

  4. Tim Rowland says:

    John, have you heard whether there’s any chance of the lecture being YouTubed for those of us in faraway states?

  5. Ken Aaron says:

    Tim, I work for the college – we’re going to try to post something on YouTube. Thanks for asking!

  6. Paul says:

    This is a great post. What is the life span of a white pine tree?

  7. Neil says:

    hi Paul – white pine (Pinus strobus) have been documented to live a little over 400 years – – they can probably live longer than that.

  8. Ken Aaron says:

    For those of you who are interested – this lecture is now available on YouTube.

    Thank you!

  9. The Grandmother’s Tree is a great story on an interesting piece of land. Margaret Somerville Woodward (1805-1894) told her husband, John, not to cut it when he thought it was the only way to raise money for pewter dishes for her. She said she’d rather do without the dishes.

    The Grandmother’s Tree, an eastern white pine at Pack Forest in Warrensburg, NY, was added to the statewide Historic Trees Register in 1987. The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry operates the Warrensburg Campus. See

    ESF’s Warrensburg Campus, in the southeastern Adirondacks, consists of the Charles Lathrop Pack Demonstration Forest, 2,600 acres noted for its eastern white pine stands, acid rain research, and some of the oldest experiments in forest fertilization in North America. For more than 80 years, Pack Forest has provided ESF students, faculty and scientists a forested classroom for their research and instruction.

    Pack Forest also hosts the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Education Camp for teens. It is also the home of the Greater Adirondack Resource Conservation and Development Council.

    The property includes an 85-acre lake and several miles of trails, including the Grandmother’s Tree Nature Trail, one of the few nature trails in the Adirondacks that is accessible to people using wheelchairs. It traverses a 50-acre natural area that introduces visitors to the ecology of an Adirondack old-growth hemlock-white pine forest and one of New York’s historic trees.

    The property is open to the public and is used by thousands of visitors for day-use recreation.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      Hi Stacy,

      We just visited yesterday morning. What a great, easy to get to, old growth forest experience. Highly recommended. Outstanding interpretive signs too.

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