Editor’s note: Adirondack Explorer board member Charlotte Hall wrote this poem about Tree 103. Believed to be one of the tallest trees in the state, Tree 103 toppled in December 2021 after spending its life as part of a group of giant white pines known as “Elder’s Grove,” near Paul Smith’s College’s Visitor Information Center (VIC).
This May 21-22, Paul Smith’s College Visitor Information Center will host the BIG TREE FEST – celebrating Old Growth and the tall, tall trees that we love to find in the Adirondacks. The weekend will feature guided hikes into Old Growth stands, learning how to determine the age and the height of trees, contests on who can find the tallest and largest by species, food, music, fun and a tribute to Tree 103!
As a child in a devout Catholic household I was intrigued by “Indulgences,” a way for sinners to avoid penalties in the afterlife by paying a fee commensurate with their bad deeds. This was years before Heaven went digital, of course, and as a youngster I assumed these bookkeeping adjustments were made in such a way that God didn’t notice the erasure marks in the Eternal Ledger.
When I first heard the phrase “carbon offsets” it reminded me of the practice of Indulgences – if you pay enough cash you can fly your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun, and through some kind of accounting magic, not emit a speck of CO2. Someone would instantly plant a forest, pump carbon into a deep ocean trench, or build a wind farm for you.
Apparently I’m too cynical at times, because carbon offsets are genuine. But there are limitations. In a July 2021 Denzeen article, Fredrika Klarén, who runs the Sustainability Division at the Chinese electric-car maker Polestar, says “It is impossible to get down to zero [CO2 emissions] with offsets alone.”
While visiting family in Oregon recently, I spent some time reflecting on what makes the Adirondacks special, while also enjoying some of the incredible nature that makes the Pacific Northwest special.
(Please forgive this small departure from water issues – though forests, as any Adirondack history will remind you, are crucial to water quality.)
I visited Oregon’s largest state park, Silver Falls, about 50 miles south of Portland, which includes a loop trail that passes by as many as 10 impressive waterfalls. While on the coast, I hiked through extraordinary, old-growth forest and across cliffs that opened to admittedly-clouded ocean views.
“If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.” David Henry Thoreau’s statement, funny in a way, also brings to mind the grave harm done to cultures around the world by Western powers in the guise of “helping” them. In a less horrific sense it applies to how we’ve “assisted” nature to disastrous ends. Cane toads in Australia, mongoose in Hawaii, Kudzu in the Southeast, and Asian harlequin ladybeetles that invade our homes each fall are a few examples of being too helpful.
I get a lot of questions from folks who’ve recently purchased a few acres of forest or home on a wooded lot and want to know if they should clear brush, thin trees, or do other things to improve the woods. It’s a fair question, and an important one.
Most healthy trees can withstand a couple years of leaf loss from caterpillar damage. Long-term damage depends on the type of tree as well as how much defoliation took place:
Hardwoods – A healthy leaf-bearing tree should have grown new leaves by now, though leaves may be smaller than usual. If your tree lost all its leaves and does not grow any new ones by summer’s end, watch it in the spring. If it still does not leaf out next spring, it has died.
Conifers – If your needle-bearing trees lost more than 50 percent of their needles, there’s a good chance they probably won’t recover. Keep an eye on them in the coming seasons, and if you have concerns or think the tree could endanger a house if it were to fall, contact an arborist.
Being first isn’t always a good thing. For example, trees that are first to have their leaves turn color are definitely losers. Premature autumn leaf color change is a reliable indicator of failing health, and the worse a tree’s condition, the sooner it begins to turn. Although the display of colors that our hardwoods produce each autumn never fails to fill me with awe and appreciation, when it starts in late July or early August, it worries me.
When I’m asked to diagnose tree problems, folks naturally want the remedy. Sometimes the only solution is tree removal; other times it’s a cable brace, pest management, corrective pruning or fertilizing. But increasingly, the diagnosis is climate change. If anyone knows how to solve that through an arboricultural practice, please let me know.
With rising temperatures, a novel weather pattern has taken hold with longer and more intense dry and wet periods. In 2012 many areas had the lowest soil moisture ever recorded. Nonstop rain in 2013 led to flooding and farm disaster relief. A drought in 2016 set more records in some places, and catastrophic flooding hit in 2017. Drought followed in 2018, and 2019 was another massive flood year. Prolonged dry spells cause root dieback, weakening trees for several years afterward. But unusually wet seasons are just as bad for trees.
(Photo at left: Mundhenk, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Senescence is the decline in vigor that happens to all creatures great and diminutive as they approach their species’ life-expectancy limit. Individual genetics matter, too, as does environment. For us, eating and sleeping well, cultivating gratitude, and laughing a lot can keep us healthier for longer. But at some point, even the best-preserved specimen can’t avoid the end.
In my line of work the list of boring topics is endless. There’s the emerald ash borer, lethal but oh-so aesthetically pleasing with its metallic-flake green paint job and subtle copper highlights. A handful of powder-post beetle species love to tunnel into floor joists and dead trees to mine talcum powder, leaving behind a field of microscopic holes perfect for anyone who has a sewing needle collection they need to organize. On the other end of the spectrum are fearsome Asian longhorned beetles that chew galleries in tree trunks faster than a Black & Decker cordless drill, leaving tunnels big enough to hide a Mini Cooper.
It’s officially spring! Warmer weather, longer days, and green leaves are headed our way. That means there’s just a short window of time left to practice your winter tree identification skills in the forest!
Did you get a chance to tune into our walk in the woods with DEC foresters last month where they provided winter tree ID tips for common New York State species? If not, be sure to check it out on our Facebook page.
Photo: Foresters from DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests provided a tour of common New York State trees during a Facebook Live in February.
How to distinguish one leaf-bereft hardwood from another in winter is more of a challenge than summer tree ID, but there are practical reasons – and a few offbeat incentives – to tell one species from another in the dormant season. Hikers and skiers can benefit from such a skill, and in survival situations, hydration and warmth may depend on it. And if you’re among those who adore wintertime camping, you can have more fun when you know common woody species.
In late winter/ early spring, a pathogen-free beverage flows from sugar, silver, and red maples when temperatures rise above freezing in the day. A bit later in the spring yet prior to leaf-out, our native white (paper), yellow, black, grey, and river birches yield copious, healthful sap as well. The same can be said for wild grape stems, although it’s crucial that one can recognize other vines out there like Virginia creeper and poison ivy.
Some of the most important trees in your woodlot are the ones that are no longer alive. Large, standing dead or dying trees—called snags—are an important part of healthy forests and a critical habitat feature for wildlife. They provide places for many birds and mammals to forage, den, nest, perch, and roost. Snags are very important for cavity-nesting birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees; for bats that roost within cavities, crevices, and flaky bark; and for countless species that rely on insects, fungi, and lichens as a food source. As long as they aren’t in a hazardous location such as near a road or building, consider leaving snags for wildlife.
In woodlands where snags are sparse or absent, it’s possible to create a few by topping, girdling, or simply leaving several mature trees as legacy trees that may become snags in the future.
Biologists recommend having at least three large snags (>12” diameter) per acre to benefit wildlife. These stately spires also add structural complexity, provide an element of visual interest, store carbon, reflect a forest stand’s past, and will enrich soils in the future.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos has announced the start of the DEC’s Annual Arbor Day Original Artwork Poster contest. This contest is held by the DEC’s Urban and Community Forestry Program yearly in order to commemorate Arbor Day. The public is invited to submit original photos and artwork celebrating the immeasurable value of trees.
The contest is sponsored by the New York State Arbor Day Committee, and the DEC will be accepting photographs and artwork submissions for the committee through December 31, 2020. The photos and artwork submitted must include trees within New York State, and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Participants will be limited to five submissions and each submission should include a completed artist information form available on DEC’s website.
To obtain past New York State Arbor Day posters, contact any local DEC forestry office or call 518-402-9428.
Do you notice any potential cause for concern such as off-color leaves, new fungal growth, or cavities?
If you have concerns, you may want to contact a certified arborist or tree service. Checking in with your trees periodically and noticing any unusual changes is the first step in making sure they can continue to help our Earth for years to come.
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