Landis Arboretum Named Old Growth Forest Headquarters

One of the many fea­tures that make vis­it­ing the Lan­dis Arbore­tum a unique expe­ri­ence is its old growth forests. This arti­cle from the Win­ter 2002 newslet­ter, orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten by Direc­tor Fred Breglia with Dave Yarrow, has been edit­ed for brevi­ty. At that time the large Old Growth For­est area in the north­ern sec­tion was not part of the Arbore­tum. It makes ref­er­ence to the Arboretum’s sig­na­ture Great Oak, which was top­pled by a hur­ri­cane in 2011 – after 400 years!

Fred Breglia
Fred Breglia

A new sur­vey team has been formed to explore and eval­u­ate poten­tial old growth forests in the Hud­son-Mohawk Val­ley, Schoharie Val­ley, and Catskills. Its head­quar­ters are based at the Lan­dis Arbore­tum, and led by arborist Fred Breglia and nat­u­ral­ist Dave Yarrow.

On Sun­day, Decem­ber 2, the East­ern New York Old Growth Sur­vey Team searched for ancient trees in the 20 acres on the hill above the Farm­house, west of the Great Oak. The team con­clud­ed that although there is sig­nif­i­cant old growth on the site, it has been dis­turbed and dam­aged in the 200-year his­to­ry of Euro­pean set­tle­ment. How­ev­er, enough orig­i­nal and ancient trees remain to be regen­er­at­ing an exem­plary old growth for­est. That for­est con­sists of approx­i­mate­ly 30% hem­lock, 20% red oak, and 10% white oak, with most trees in the 250 – 300 year range. The Arboretum’s Great Oak was esti­mat­ed to be 400 years old, the old­est tree on the Arboretum’s grounds. How­ev­er, the team dis­cov­ered an old stump in the 500-year old range. Oth­er species that reached old growth sta­tus include black birch, bass­wood, sug­ar maple, beech, big tooth aspen, and iron­wood. Oth­er sites inves­ti­gat­ed by the Old Growth Sur­vey Team include the Lisha Kill and the Albany Pine Bush, both owned by the Nature Con­ser­van­cy, and Old Maid’s Woods, which is owned by the City of Schenectady.

Accord­ing to for­est botanists and ecol­o­gists, old growth is defined by 10 char­ac­ter­is­tics that describe the trees, under­sto­ry, and ter­rain. One key cri­te­ri­on is that at least six large trees per acre must be at least 150 years old. Trees must be of a vari­ety of all age ranges, from young saplings to mature trees. The for­est must have a well-devel­oped canopy, with a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of snags, downed trees, and woody debris. There should be an under­sto­ry of small trees, shrubs, herbs, moss­es, and lichens, all of which indi­cates a rich bio­di­ver­si­ty of flo­ra and fau­na. Human dis­tur­bances should be absent or minimal.

When Colum­bus arrived in the West­ern Hemi­sphere, Amer­i­ca east of the Mis­sis­sip­pi was shel­tered by a thick cov­er of tall, majes­tic trees – an ancient for­est of grand dimen­sions that had exist­ed for uncount­ed cen­turies. Euro­pean set­tlers quick­ly cut down the trees to clear the land, con­vert­ing it into farm­land and har­vest­ing the trees for tim­ber, char­coal, and potash. In the 21st Cen­tu­ry, only a tiny rem­nant of that vir­gin for­est – less than 0.25% – sur­vives. Many acres have regrown with sec­ondary stands that can only approx­i­mate the once great forests. Most of these for­est rem­nants and sec­ondary growth are in nation­al and state for­est pre­serves; small­er tracts are owned by envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions, pri­vate cit­i­zens, and tim­ber companies.

Old growth forests are valu­able for many rea­sons, such as they pro­vide habi­tat for a max­i­mum diver­si­ty of life, includ­ing many endan­gered and threat­ened species. Because of their bio­log­i­cal com­plex­i­ty and matu­ri­ty, ancient forests serve as crit­i­cal con­trols in sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies of for­est dynam­ics. Stud­ies also demon­strate old growth forests are effi­cient sys­tems in remov­ing car­bon from the atmos­phere, mit­i­gat­ing glob­al cli­mate change due to green­house gas­es.
Remem­ber: If you’re not for­est, then you’re against us.”

Summer 2020

Volume 38 , Number 2

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