Most people in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed States have never been through an old growth forest, that is, they have never experienced nature under any of its most biologically diverse forms.
These awe-inspiring forests, with massive trees and canopies so thick that the ground below never sees the full light of day, once covered most of the United States. That is, until rampant industrial-scale logging in the 1800s and early 1900s hit their stride and almost wiped out. The antlers that have grown since then appear and act very differently.
The quest to cut down every large tree for its practical and financial value was so thorough that, experts generally agree, the remaining old growth forest in the eastern United States is less than 1% of what was here when the settlers. Europeans have arrived.
For 10 years now, Joan Maloof, a retired professor at the University of Salisbury in Maryland, and her Old-Growth Forest Network have worked hard to fill this void in the landscape.
âBefore, I was frustrated. Why didn’t they save more [original forests]? âMalof said.â I said, ‘OK, let’s start now, we’ll be the only ones.’ So these people in 200 years will thank us.
The group’s mission is to find an ancient forest remnant in every county in the United States that has ever had one. If no old growth forest can be found in a county, they aim to find and protect an expanse of woodland that over time can become a great reminder of the past. Then future generations will be able to experience, as Maloof says, the âjoy and respectâ of seeing a forest old enough to be in balance with itself.
So far, the network has successfully protected lumber patches in 146 of the 2,370 U.S. counties targeted. Forest reserves ranging from 14 acres to 17 square miles have been established in 27 states, from Massachusetts to California, carved out of community parks, private woodlands, state forests and nine national parks.
Pennsylvania leads the pack, tied with Ohio, with 18 old or potential reserves established – mostly from state forests placed in the network by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“By protecting areas of old growth forest, the Old-Growth Forest Network seeks to connect people to them to appreciate their beauty, and that education and public awareness are of great value,” said the secretary of the DCNR, Cindy Adams Dunn. âIt’s awesome to be among the elders, and we all know that awareness and connection is what leads to stewardship and conservation. “
The agency maintains 20,000 acres of old growth forest in state forests and has designated an additional 575,000 acres of second and third growth forest to be managed for future old growth forests.
New York has 13 sites in the network. West Virginia has 11, Virginia has 10, and Maryland has 9.
Old growth forests include, but are not the same, even rarer âvirginâ forests, which have never been logged by humans and have never been destroyed by fire in history.
An old-growth forest, on the other hand, is forest that may have been afforested or burned, but not in the past 150 years or more. Some put that number higher in defining authentic old-growth forests, but what matters, however long it takes, is that the forest has had enough time to at least begin to develop the ecosystem type. complex and deeply interdependent that exists in a virgin forest.
Old growth forests develop deep and complex canopy layers that provide an abundant variety of habitats and insects for birds. The berry-producing plants that thrive under these thick canopies support birds, as well as land animals. The cavities that develop in some very old trees are home to birds and small mammals. And even dead trees – muscled by other species or succumbing to injury or old age – create habitat and food for fungi, insects, reptiles and amphibians.
The soil of old-growth forests retains moisture like a sponge, favored by lichens and mosses. When you walk in such a forest, the ground bounces in your footsteps. Here the topsoil is created instead of being destroyed. And old-growth forests are huge machines for capturing carbon and producing oxygen.
Then there’s the matter of the sheer beauty of an ancient living organism, Maloof said. âI started out as a scientist and when I visited all these old growth forests I thought I would observe the scientific principles, but what I noticed was the beauty. [of leaving] only part of the Earth to develop naturally. There is something about this evolution and development that is beautiful for humans. “
The Old-Growth Forest Network is based in Easton, Maryland, and is funded by the private sector. It has attracted more than 4,000 supporters, including around 600 volunteers nationwide who are looking for old-growth plots and old-fashioned candidates of all sizes, which Maloof and his team of six can target for. public protection and access.
It’s a needle-in-the-haystack effort, but research has yielded unexpected discoveries and large-scale preservation efforts, even on private land.
For example, the Woodland Owners of the Southern Alleghenies are a group of about 100 landowners in south-central Pennsylvania who have timber that they intend to log occasionally. But they want to manage the process in a way that supports wildlife, pollinators, and native species.
Recently, the group received a 37-acre plot when a member passed away. During a professional inventory of the land, an 8 acre woodlot was found to contain massive and very old white oaks. Carrots have determined that they have been growing there undisturbed since 1838.
These 8 acres, renamed the Sulzbacher Demonstration Forest, are open to the public and include trails and parking.
“It’s just a nice piece of wood,” said Laura Jackson, group treasurer. âIt’s not an impact on the wilderness, but it’s very uplifting and it makes me feel good to see such tall trees. “
For more information, visit the Old Forest Network website at oldgrowthforest.net. There are too many old preserved forests in the Bay Area to list them here, but the network’s website can help you find a preserved forest near you. Under the âForestsâ tab, click âFind Network Forestâ.